Monday, 23 May 2022

Women’s regatta wants to be on par with Royal

Women’s regatta wants to be on par with Royal

ORGANISERS of Henley Women’s Regatta want it to be seen on the same level as the more famous Henley Royal.

The annual event takes place on the royal regatta course each June when more than 1,500 crews from around the world race side by side downstream over three days.

The regatta has developed since it began in 1988 but the organisers want it be on a par with the Royal, which takes place two weeks later and is much older and bigger.

Regatta chairman Naomi Riches, a Paralympic gold medallist, said: “We want to get together as many local businesses or businesses that have a local base to talk about Henley Women’s Regatta.

“It’s often seen as ‘the smaller regatta’ or ‘not the main regatta’ compared to Henley Royal, which is one of my frustrations, and it needs to be on a parallel.

“While we don’t want to be as corporate, we would like corporate involvement to allow us to do more for our athletes.”

She was speaking at a special event for prospective sponsors held at the River & Rowing Museum on Thursday last week.

Miriam Luke, an Olympic silver medallist, who chaired the regatta from 2013 to 2021, said: “Henley Women’s has been an incredible regatta and it has grown massively since 1988.

“We’ve worked very hard to make it a fantastic competitor experience and attract more people from the town to come and watch it free.”

The regatta is currently funded by the income from entry fees, sponsorship and grants from Henley Town Council which have enabled the purchase of more boat racks and more IT infrastructure to provide wi-fi across the whole site.

Mrs Riches, who was born with a visual impairment, said that rowing had been the spark that lit her desire to be successful.

In her GCSE year, at a parents’ evening, her form tutor had said: “Oh yes, that’s the blind girl from my class. Unfortunately, we have to have girls like that at our school.”

Mrs Riches said: “I didn’t want to be defined by the thing that held me back.”

She first attended the women’s regatta as a spectator at the invitation of a friend.

She said: “I remember sitting on the towpath having a picnic and getting muddy because it was drizzling but thinking, ‘I love this, I want to be in this world, I want to do this’.”

She went on to be part of Great Britain para-rowing team for a decade, becoming a world champion six times and winning a bronze medal at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 and a gold at London 2012.

Mrs Riches said the women’s regatta was an important part of the racing calendar. “For many athletes it is the best they’re ever going to achieve, the best they ever want to achieve, and for others it’s the step towards national trials or Henley Royal,” she said.

“We’ve got such diverse crews, we’ve got para and adaptive crews, we’ve got championship crews that are a really high level and we’ve got development crews. We’ve got something for everybody and it’s a real celebration of women in sport.

“I want it to become somewhere where people will have to make a decision so that they do Henley Royal or they come to Henley Women’s and they see both in a similar light.

“When I started in para sport, the Paralympics was very similar — it was, ‘Oh, is it before or after the main Olympics, or the normal Olympics or the big Olympics?’

“No, it’s its own thing. The ‘para’ in Paralympics is for ‘parallel’.”

Jack Beaumont, an Olympian who is a fortmer captain of Leander Club and an ambassador for the regatta, said: “What I’ve seen is how massive it is for women in our sport. The parity in rowing, it’s getting there. I don’t think it’s quite where we want it to be, but it’s getting there.

“Any of you who are hopefully generous enough to support this regatta, you’re going to stand out. I hope you all support it very much.”

Tim and Sarah Lohmann, who met through rowing, already sponsor the regatta as a couple and through his business, Wentworth House Partnership, a construction design company in Esher.

Mr Lohmann said: “We don’t sponsor things like this because we get anything out of it, we do it because it’s a good thing to do and it’s a relatively small cost for the business.

“Rowing has a horrible image of being elitist and that’s one thing that Henley Women’s Regatta is not. It’s the opportunity to get women to compete and aspire.”

Mrs Lohmann, a teacher, said: “I got so much out of rowing and out of sport. You feel really proud to be putting something back.

“When you see kids and young people engaged, happy and enthusiastic, and the fact the regatta is open to junior levels and has all sorts of athletes, future Paralympians for example, I’m there.”

The number of competitors in the regatta peaked in 2019 at 1,850 and the organisers hope to match that this year.

Last year, the event was able to livestream the racing after spending £35,000 on drones, boats, licenced pilots and a broadcasting team.

The coverage had more than 70,000 views over the three days and more than 17,000 viewing hours on YouTube.

This year’s Henley Women’s Regatta will be held from Friday to Sunday, June 17 to 19. For more information, visit https://hwr.org.uk

• Miriam Luke will speak about the regatta and the rise of women’s rowing at a free public webinar on Tuesday at 6.30pm. This will be hosted by Henley Rotary Club. To register, visit https://miriamluke.
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