It’s a rising force with still so much to reveal and delight wider audiences; women’s sport in the UK, and around the world, has a lot to offer spectators, a younger generation waiting to be inspired, and all of us who enjoy stories of human dedication, individuals exploring the boundaries of what is humanly possible.
Though still disappointed by the imbalance in the print media, I am buoyed by how much social media is helping to bring women’s sport to the fore; how the Women’s World Cup winning Rugby team rightly established a high profile for their professionalism and skill last year; and how younger women have so many more opportunities than ever before to get active and find out where their sporting talent lies.
This year will see another first for a sport I am closely involved with, rowing. The Boat Race, one of the oldest and most iconic sporting events in the world, will in April see the women’s boat race take place on the same day and over the same course as the men. Traditionally, the women from Cambridge and Oxford University have raced over 2K at Henley, but at last, parity comes to one of our oldest sporting national treasures.
About time too! Twenty years ago when I was rowing at Cambridge, I remember asking coaches and others involved in our sport out of pure puzzlement, “Why can’t we race our boat race in London on the Tideway like the men?” No-one ever actually had a good reason. Some just tried to hush me up, embarrassed and eager to change the subject. So all I heard was ‘Don’t be silly’ and ‘Don’t be ridiculous’, the best I heard was ‘Maybe one day’ – well thank goodness that day has finally arrived!
Not without a lot of involvement and support from many committed individuals, the Vice-Chancellors of the Universities down to the sponsors, Newton Investment, who combined with their parent company BNYMellon now jointly, sponsor both Boat Races. It takes a lot of commercial, political and academic force to change a national institution like the Boat Race!
Others have asked me recently whether the women from those universities will be able to race such a long course – as I tried to stifle my immediate reactions, I was reminded of stories I read before the women’s marathon joined the Olympics in 1984, when people doubted whether women could or should be running marathons – it seems ridiculous now, but still such doubts and questions exist when something ‘has never been done before’. Nevertheless, what fun it is to dispel them through more and more displays of powerful women’s sports across the sporting spectrum.
So, with keen supporters from Newton’s Chief Executive Helena Morrissey to Clare Balding at the forefront of the event, (who has chosen to commentate on the Women’s Boat Race rather than the Grand National this year), there will be thousands lining the banks of the Thames and watching around the world to see a double display of sporting prowess by these dedicated academics and rowing athletes, which will hopefully serve to inspire more young girls to take up our wonderful sport. As Chair of the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club (CUWBC), I am rooting in my heart for a light blue victory, but whatever happens, just seeing the race before our eyes will be the biggest victory of all!
University Boat Race Thames map courtesy of Wikipedia