Earlier this week the Guardian newspaper broke rowing news that I’m very happy about; Leander Club has been informed by the Henley Stewards that they cannot enter Club-level events at Henley Royal Regatta.
To explain a bit, Leander Club is a bit of a gorilla in British rowing. Their boathouse/clubhouse is at the very end of the Henley Royal Regatta course, which means they are able to make a significant sum of money from hiring out facilities during the regatta. Additionally, they are able to raise a significant amount of money from ~2000 members that keep their affiliation (and thus get tickets for the facilities during Henley). This means that for the other 51 weeks of the year they are able to pay for highly trained coaches and heavily subsidize their athlete’s training.
For club rowers at Leander, rowing is essentially their job. They are expected to train for around six hours a day. There’s really no way to have any sort of reasonable full-time job after that. Club rowers elsewhere around the country train in their spare-time. Really serious athletes either sacrifice and work part-time to train more, or sacrifice everything else in their life to train. Where Leander athletes pay virtually nothing for membership and get kit and camps largely paid for, any other club’s athletes pay a lot of money (hundreds of pounds) on membership, kit and everything else.
My rowing club, Thames Rowing Club, does it’s best and has had some really good success recently. We do pay some fairly significant membership fees, but we have very impressive facilities, a top-level paid coach and an incredible boat fleet.
With such a dramatic difference between one “club” and the rest of the clubs around the country, I completely support what the Henley Stewards chose to do in this case. It’s simply not fair to consider their athletes in the “club” category when they are able to and expected to train so much more than any of their competition.