Sunday, 29 May 2022

I want comeback regatta to be normal as possible

I want comeback regatta to be normal as possible

THE chairman of Henley Royal Regatta says this year’s event will be “business as usual”.

The exception, adds Sir Steve Redgrave, is that this will be the first time the world’s most prestigious rowing event outside the Olympic Games will run to six days.

In 2019, the stewards of the regatta agreed to extend the event from five days, meaning rowing would begin a day earlier, on the Tuesday, to allow for two new events for women.

But a lot has happened since then. The emergence of coronavirus two years ago meant the 2020 regatta was cancelled for the first time outside of the two world wars.

Then last year’s event was delayed until August to ensure clarity on the numbers of spectators allowed to attend and what health and safety restrictions needed to be in place.

It was decided to keep to the five-day format for a final time and reduce the amount of infrastructure, including not having the regatta enclosure.

Spectators were only allowed to attend if they could show a valid covid pass.

Sir Steve, who has chaired the regatta’s committee of management since 2015, says he now wants to turn the clock back and show off the best that event has to offer.

He said: “We want to get back to where we were before 2019.

“This year we have got all our marquees up where we only had some up last year because of the restrictions. Due to the late notice we didn’t finish the tents off as we wanted to. It will look a lot sharper this year.

“Last year, the boating tents were at Fawley Meadows but they will be back at the traditional [Berkshire] site and the regatta enclosure will also be back.

“We will also have a slightly different grandstand with a new shaded area to protect our members and guests from the elements.

“We are an open-air event so we are lucky but you have got to be mindful because we are going to be living with this virus for years, as we did with Spanish flu years ago. But we are moving more and more towards what this new normality will be and that will be true for all events.

“We want to let people know that we are back open for business and we want to make this comeback regatta as good as we possibly can.

“It will be as traditional as possible and we are going to pretend that the last two years haven’t happened.”

Sir Steve is excited by the prospect of a sixth day of racing but he insists the move will have a limited impact on the town.

He said: “We are excited about it but that doesn’t mean there will be that many more races as we are spreading the load.

“One of the reasons we are going to six days is to try to make the days more manageable.

“In previous years, when it was daylight we had racing so we would race at 8.30am some days and race until 8pm some evenings.

“To have an extra day means we can spread that out so we can start later in the morning and there is not so much pressure on everyone being here at the crack of dawn to get ready.

“We are lucky to have amazingly professional staff and volunteers. The impact on the town won’t be huge. The qualifiers will be on the same day and teams and crews will still be arriving at the same time but rather than having an extra day’s practice, the regatta will start a day earlier.”

The qualifying races will happen as normal on the Friday before the regatta starts, beginning at 12.30pm. Everyone is welcome to go along and watch the action.

Racing at the event itself is due to start at 10am on Tuesday, June 28. Racing on the Wednesday and Thursday may start half an hour earlier but this will be subject to the amount of entries.

The regatta church service at St Mary’s in Henley will return on the morning of finals day, Sunday, July 3, when there will be 26 races, starting at 11am and finishing at 4.30pm.

Entries for the regatta close early next month and Sir Steve is confident there will be a big turnout.

He said: “I know that Australian and Chinese crews want to come and a lot of individual national boats but entries don’t close until the beginning of May.

“We tend to know about the international crews earlier because they need to get their logistics right in advance but enquiries are coming in all the time.

“Taking away the last two years because of covid, there has always been a huge turnout and we want this regatta to feel more like the 2019 regatta.

“I think entries will be very big, somewhere close to what we had in 2019, which was our biggest.

“I know clubs on the domestic scene want to get back to normality and that international crews are also keen to come back. A year after the Olympics tends to bring a strong international standard, although after Tokyo was delayed by 12 months, we find ourselves in the strange position of being just two years away from the next Games.”

Sir Steve says the reaction from spectators and competitors at last year’s regatta reinforced just how important the event is.

He said: “Where we were last year, delaying the regatta to August, was interesting from the athletes’ point of view as they were allowed to start training a few months before that and they were desperate to get back to normality.

“Henley is an iconic sporting event and the athletes wanted to compete, which showed us that people were keen to get back to normality.

“People, including our members, were fed up of being locked away and not being able to come out.

“Last year you could really feel the emotion around the regatta. People would come up to me and say, ‘thank you’.

“I didn’t know why people were thanking me, we were just trying to make the event as normal as we could but they told me that they had been waiting for the moment and the return of normal life — that’s when you realise just what Henley means.

“When you are in the thick of it, you just focus on your routines and on getting the event running as close to normal as possible but people were blown away by the event we put on.

“Even though our lives have been hugely impacted by covid, people loved to be there watching the racing and meeting friends.

“It made us feel valued and just shows where Henley stands in the rowing community and wider
society.”

The chairman added: “It is an honour to be part of an event that has been running for 180-plus years and we are very passionate about it.”

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