Sir Steve Redgrave ushers in Henley Royal Regatta changes to fight ‘private schools event’ reputation

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Henley Royal Regatta begins next week and there will be new crews racing at the event after a big change ushered in by Sir Steve Redgrave.

Sir Steve Redgrave is hoping to break the 'private schools event' feel of Henley Royal Regatta this year despite pressure from the country's longstanding traditional rowing schools.

For the first time ever, this year's regatta will see The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup open up to clubs as well as schools. The event is for junior men's eights and historically had been open exclusively to schools with rowing clubs that could produce crews fast enough to qualify and enter.

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Some of those schools have shown hesitancy to the change ushered in by the British Olympic legend which is set to see clubs bring young rowers from international countries to try and break the mould.

The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup has been won by either St Paul's School, Abingdon School or Eton College in 12 of the last 13 events.

Speaking to The End of the Island Rowing Podcast, Henley Royal Regatta Chairman Sir Steve said: "It's about opportunity. When the Princess Elizabeth first started, it was a private schools event.

"When we introduced the Fawley and then the Diamond Jubilee, that was definitely going to be a mixture of schools and clubs. Anybody under the age of 19 is getting the opportunity to race in it. This in some people's mind will be the biggest race they do and we weren't letting them in. It was going to happen sooner or later.

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The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup has been dominated by Abingdon, Eton and St Paul’s (Image: Getty Images)The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup has been dominated by Abingdon, Eton and St Paul’s (Image: Getty Images)
The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup has been dominated by Abingdon, Eton and St Paul’s (Image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

"I don't myself have any history in that event so don't have any heartstrings. Things change as they go on and it's about opportunity. We see ourselves as the biggest and best side-by-side, so why limit the categories? Let's get as many as possible racing."

This year's Henley Royal Regatta list of entries has been published and in the Princess Elizabeth, alongside regular attendees of St. Paul's, Eton College, Abingdon School, Pangbourne College and Radley College there are also American clubs Marin Rowing Association, Greenwich Crew and Green Lake Crew.

Sir Steve shared that he sat down with The Kitchin Society, a group set up to 'support all directors of rowing at school boat clubs', and understood any resistance shown.

He said: "I went to speak at The Kitchin Society and one of those top schools didn't want it but it was going to happen sooner or later. Most of the people in that room are paid coaches to teach rowing at their schools, they may do other roles as well, but it's in their interest to keep it a close shop as much as possible."

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The Olympian added that the Henley Royal Regatta committee were aware that the change might encourage clubs in the UK and internationally to cherry-pick rowers from school and create the best boat possible for the event, but that this would be fought against.

He said: "If you're a student at the school, you're a student at the school. Do you do most of your rowing at the school and then go to a club to row at a higher level to be able to race at one of our events as a possibility? We don't like that.

Sir Steve Redgrave is Chairman of the Henley Royal Regatta (Image: Getty Images)Sir Steve Redgrave is Chairman of the Henley Royal Regatta (Image: Getty Images)
Sir Steve Redgrave is Chairman of the Henley Royal Regatta (Image: Getty Images) | Getty Images

"We want you to represent the place where you started your rowing. Rowing cities in America are huge. They don't have the school systems that we have and so their club rowing is a little bit bigger and they are drawing from more schools. If they are legitimate club members and started rowing for their club - what we won't want is any country to be able to put a crew together which is almost then a national eight.

"It's not for national eights, it's for the top juniors from their rowing establishments."

Henley Royal Regatta begins on Tuesday, June 27 and finishes with final day on Sunday, July 2.

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