Henley and Tokyo

Henley as it was in 2019 and as we once expected it to be in 2020.

24 March 2020

By Tim Koch

A sad but not unexpected press release has come from Henley Royal Regatta at 15.00 GMT today, Tim Koch writes:

With much sadness and regret, the Committee of Management has unanimously agreed that the 2020 Regatta must be cancelled. We have also ruled out the possibility of staging the Regatta at a future stage this year.  

It has weighed heavily on us all that in its 181-year history, the Regatta has only previously been cancelled during the World Wars. Also, that so many athletes and coaches have worked so hard for an entire season in order to give themselves the chance to race at Henley. Nonetheless, we are agreed that this is the right decision for our staff, members, volunteers, competitors, spectators and all those involved in the staging and running of the Regatta, including, of course, all Stewards….  

We very much hope that the situation in the UK will have improved significantly by 1 July. However, current evidence suggests that this should not be our expectation. Either way, given Government social distancing measures and travel restrictions currently in force, it will not be possible to install the course and build the site, which ordinarily would commence this week. 

In this context, we have decided to cancel now, allowing us to engage in discussions with suppliers, contractors and other partners about the contractual implications, so as to minimise any further cost to the Regatta this year. We have also taken very seriously our responsibility to the sport of rowing and to society more broadly, to provide clarity and certainty that we will not be staging the Regatta this year.

The gap in the Stewards’ collection of Enclosure Badges may be for 2021, not 2020, as this year’s badges have already been sent out and the press release hinted that they will be used for next year. It also stated ‘regrettably we are not in a position to provide refunds of the Annual Subscription monies already paid for 2020 by our Members’.

The press release continues: 

This will not be an easy financial year for many people. The Regatta, its staff, suppliers and contractors will be no exception to that. Given the timing of the emergence of COVID-19, and contractual and financial commitments already made for this year, the Regatta now faces a significant financial loss in 2020… 

The Regatta has insurance against a range of risks, but not cancellation of the event. This is because the cost of cover has always been disproportionately high relative to the evidence of history, which until this year has never seen the cancellation of the Regatta during peacetime…. 

We all know and cherish the fact that our sport is more than a community; it is a family. On behalf of the Committee of Management, I ask that in these unsettled and troubling times, we rally together to help protect and preserve the particular family that is Henley Royal Regatta…

The Sea Forest Waterway. Graphic: Tokyo Metropolitan Government

As to the only remaining international regatta that has not been cancelled, on 23 March International Olympic Committee member, Dick Pound, suggested that the 2020 Olympic Games will be postponed by one year. Previously, Britain, Canada and Australia said that they would not send a team to Tokyo for a 24 July start. The IOC has promised an official decision by the third week in April. The Olympic Regatta was due to run 24 July to 31 July at the Sea Forest Waterway in Odaiba, Tokyo Bay.

All this adds to the feeling that 2020 has been cancelled. However, Henley and the Olympics have survived two World Wars and they will survive this. The Henley press release ends by saying that in 2021:

The grass in the Enclosures will be as green as ever, the racing as excellent as ever and with your support, the event as strong as ever.

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