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OPINION: Rowing, the sport for Britain's elites


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When you think of the sport rowing, it is hard to miss out the associations between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and their infamous annual boat race. With many in modern Britain viewing these institutions as posh, elitist and highly selective, it is clear to see how this form of association has spilled into rowing as a sport only available to societies elite.

To the majority of us, the most we have ever rowed is when we try to beat our PB’s on the rowing machine at our local gym. The reality is, rowing and modern Britain is a relationship that doesn’t seem to easily marry up when you dig a little deeper, exposing a troubling favouring of young people of a privileged background as opposed to the average young Briton. 

Britain and rowing have a long-lasting relationship, whereby team GB have consistently proven their worth in the sport over the decades at international championships. But, when it comes to taking up the rowing as merely a hobby or a means to keep fit, it becomes clear that doing so is just simply unobtainable.

To purchase a second-hand sculls boat, it will set you back between £400 to £5,000 with a brand-new racing boat costing approximately £10,000, a luxury the majority of us will never be able to afford. So, we often therefore look to other sports such as cycling, swimming or running as a much cheaper hobby or a way to keep fit.

If you can afford to either rent of purchase a proper competitive rowing boat, then you come up against your next challenge: finding a suitable place to train. When it comes cycling, you can hop on your bike and cycle around town, or with swimming head to your local leisure centre, but it’s not so easy for rowers. A high standard boat house in a prime location is required, a combination that is often found at well-funded universities, especially the Russell Group members.

As we know, with ever rising costs of living and tuition fees, university life is already an unobtainable option for a lot of young people in the UK. So, when the £4.9 million boat house is built at the University of Cambridge, it further isolates opportunities for young people to take up the sport properly outside of higher education. Gold medal winning athletes like Matthew Pinsent (Oxford), Constantine Louloudis (Oxford) and Tom James (Cambridge) all graduating from prestigious higher education institutions prove that there is a clear advantage of attending these elitist universities.

Even at university, opportunities’ for less privileged students to take up the sport is incredibly limited. Amazingly fit and trained student athletes all compete for the few places available on the rowing team and will therefore often exclude and discourage first time rowers from taking part.

Spaces will frequently go to students took up the sport from a young age so have had more time to master and perfect the sport, more often than not at private schools that can afford a higher standard of sports funding.

This does not mean that students who do make the team are not deserving of the place, but it does leave less fortunate students in limbo: a desire to take up the sport but have missed out on opportunities often because of differences in background.

The reality is that there seems to be little to no opportunities for young prospective athletes from a much more average background when the odds to properly excel in the sport are so favourably stacked to the advantage of societies elite.

There is now a question as to where the fault lies for the elitist nature of the sport, the lack of funding from governmental bodies to limit opportunities’ or prestigious, well-funded and selective schools possessing too much domination over the sport? It is therefore hard to envisage a time where British rowing will ever be able to shake its elitist perception with so many factors affecting opportunities for the average young person to take up the sport.

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact The National Student on social media or email

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