17 April 2020
By Robert Treharne Jones
Robert Treharne Jones describes the Boat Race of the future.
It is the year 2107 and once again the world of sport keenly anticipates the Boat Race, the annual clash of the titans between the athletes from China and the European Republic.
The Europeans are this year determined to break the stranglehold which the Chinese have held on this event – a dominance which has seen them record the longest winning streak since the race became a play-off between East and West. This year it’s the turn of Germany to captain the team and try and reverse the Europeans’ fortune – they’ve been fortunate to recruit the coaching services of Andreas Hacker, whose great-grandfather was an Olympic sculling champion in the last century.
The crews will shortly make the long trip to the Global Rowing Venue in India, where the combination of skilled, cheap labour and neutral territory proved a winning formula when the idea of the 2000 metre indoor venue was first mooted.
The complete lack of wind or current is agreed to provide the fairest of conditions possible, but following pressure from the health and safety lobby the depth of the lake has had to be further reduced. The inspectors originally regarded any water, no matter how shallow, as too hazardous for use but rigorous safety plans now include a lakebed mounted on a hydraulic platform which can be raised within minutes should any athlete or spectator suffer a mishap.
It’s all a far cry from the old days of the 21st century when students from the Oxford and Cambridge city academies used to race each year over a four mile course of the former River Thames in London, in the north-western corner of the European Republic.
But following the disqualification in 2035 a disgruntled athlete took his case to the Court of Human Rights who ruled that the event was both discriminatory and unfair. The crews at that time were selected from just two former universities, but the spring cyclones which became so regular following the two degree rise in global temperature, coupled with the unpredictable stream across the Thames Lake, made the race a lottery, at least according to the judges.
In its place a selection tournament was held to determine who would contest the final, with the winners meeting similar crews from across Europe. But the standard never grew high enough to challenge the dominance of China, and so the Europeans clubbed together to form a crew capable of winning the race.
The history books provide a wealth of information on the race which has gone through so many changes since the first contest almost 278 years ago. Reading the tide used to be the key to success, but when the government of the time failed to heed warning signals and install a second Thames Barrier early last century the result was almost inevitable.
The Big Ben clock tower, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London were just some of the historical sites which were damaged irreversibly by flooding, and large areas of central parts of the city had to be rebuilt.
The Boat Race course had already lost much of the sentimental attraction which had proved such a draw for so many years. The destruction of one of the historic bridges by a terrorist attack was the last straw for the authorities who did their best to make sure that the public stayed away from the riverside walkways on race day.
The race in India will be behind closed doors, as usual, because the costs of policing the event had proved too much. Rowing has never achieved global popularity as a sport, but interest in the Race has always been high, for reasons which the press has never really been able to fathom. And that’s why almost one billion people have registered to receive the plasma-cast directly onto their contact lens, while some luddites will stay at home and watch the race on their computer screen.
And all across the world groups of men and women will gather together to celebrate and recall the day they won the Race!
This article was previously published in the 2007 Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race Programme. This version has images selected by Tim Koch.