Thursday, 25 February 2021

Clubs hope royal regatta can go ahead in summer

Clubs hope royal regatta can go ahead in summer

Henley Royal Regatta

ROWING clubs are hopeful that Henley Royal Regatta can take place this summer in some form.

Organisers have decided to postpone the annual event to mid-August to try to avoid cancelling it for the second year running due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, it may have to happen with fewer or no spectators and could be moved from the Henley stretch of the River Thames to Dorney Lake in Buckinghamshire.

Henley’s clubs and nearby schools and colleges are keen to compete at the event this year in whatever form it takes so they can get back to competitive racing.

Mark Banks, director of rowing and chief coach at Leander Club, said moving the date was putting athletes first.

He said: “The announcement is typical of the people involved with the staging of the regatta as they are clearly thinking of the athletes in that they are looking at a later date or a different venue so they can have some racing this year.

“I am pretty confident that outdoor sport will be flourishing by the time the regatta would otherwise be happening but they need four months to set the course up and contractors to deal with.

“I would assume that a decision would have been needed to be made very soon as to whether they were going to work to the beginning of July so that’s why they have taken the decision now.

“Our athletes have not had any competitive racing for a year now and even if the regatta is not the same as what we are used to, the athletes will make it good so I have no doubt that it would still be
special.”

Stewart Bell, captain of Upper Thames Rowing Club, said he was disappointed that the regatta wouldn’t be staged at the usual time but understood the decision to postpone it.

He said: “With an event like the regatta, logistically it is a difficult one to control as there is such a big audience. We were hoping there would be some sort of rowing calendar by the summer but, if racing is allowed by August, the only issue then is holiday plans might be affected.

“However, we are keen that our athletes get a chance to compete at the earliest opportunity and we will do all we can to be fit and ready, even if it has to be a second-best event where it is held at Dorney Lake.

“Our girls and boys have been training hard. On Saturday we did an ergo test, rowing flat out for 2km. All are working remotely to stay fit as we can’t currently get together at all but we will ensure that we are ready.”

Bell said it would be a shame if the regatta was moved to Dorney Lake and for athletes to miss out of the “spectacle” of the regatta on home water with large crowds.

He said: “The whole point of Henley is the spectacle and it will be a totally different event if it was held at Dorney but something is better than nothing. We should try to give athletes the chance to compete, whatever the restrictions but hopefully we can get back to Henley as otherwise it will be a totally sanitised event.”

Helen Turnell, who chairs Henley Rowing Club, said she was pleased the regatta may go ahead but hopes older boys and girls don’t miss out through other commitments.

She said: “I think it is wonderful that they are trying to find a solution after they couldn’t run last year. You can see that they are really trying hard to work something out but I don’t envy them trying to organise an event like this in a public area. As a club, we will do all we can to support them.

“A lot of our rowers are aiming to race at Henley this year but the change of date to August could really affect our 18- and 19-year-olds as some are looking to go to American universities to study and they may have left by then.

“That said, it is wonderful to have an event to focus on, whether it is in Henley or at Dorney.”

Steve Tomlinson, director of sport at the Oratory School, said his pupils always looked forward to competing at the royal regatta.

He said: “This year, training has been very different from usual and we all understand and support the difficult decision that the royal regatta and many other events have had to make in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As our pupils progress within the school’s boat club and become more experienced, they always look forward to the royal regatta challenge and the international sporting event it offers.

“This year has seen our first Oratory girls’ crews take to the river. They have been out in quad sculls from the school boathouse in Whitchurch and the regatta’s expansion of its female events now offers new goals within the sport and we hope to compete soon.

“Pupils have remained in good sporting routines this year, training well individually and with their family members.

“Cycling and running have seen fantastic uptake as accessible training alternatives to our more traditional sports but we are very much looking forward to the exciting times when we can return to rowing and racing in a safe manner.”

David Currie, director of rowing at Shiplake College, said: “All I would like is for our students to get the opportunity to race, regardless of time or location. It has been a tough two years for the now year 13 students, with so much taken away from them.

“If they get the opportunity to compete in the summer they would take anything that is offered. The students have invested so much time in training over the last two years and they need to have something to show for it.”

This year’s regatta, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to Henley, was due to be held from Tuesday, June 29 to Sunday, July 4 but has been pushed back to August 10 to 15, or at Dorney Lake on dates to be confirmed.

Regatta chairman Sir Steve Redgrave said the decision to postponed was made “reluctantly” but felt it was better than having another outright cancellation.

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