12 August 2021
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch is down by the riverside.
It is generally accepted that it is a defining event in a child’s life when they first realise that their parents are fallible. Yesterday, the first Henley Royal Regatta in over 750 days was back and I for one was shocked to discover that the Stewards are as human as the rest of us and that Henley 2021 is not going to be perfect.
This is, of course, judging those that run the event by their own incredibly high standards, levels of excellence set in “normal times”. The fact that there is a regatta at all this year is of enormous credit to the sixty-three Stewards and, in the current circumstances, no one could have put on a Henley anything like we have seen in the recent past.
A few critics clearly have the ability to see into the future but, as the men and women who put on The Royal sadly lack this ability, they had to plan for the worst possible case caused by constantly changing COVID restrictions and the forced and rapid introduction of radical changes was never going to be without its problems. The historical success of an event like Henley is that usually it slowly evolves and avoids mistakes caused by hasty decisions. To add to its problems, the pandemic has caused a labour shortage as many are forced to self-isolate and, according to its website, the regatta is still advertising for staff.
The result of all this was that, for the competitors it was pretty much business as usual between the booms but boating from Fawley Meadows had its problems. In the Stewards’ Enclosure standards have been lowered with food stall concessions lurking in the old Regatta Enclosure end and some people wandering around with food and drink unchallenged. The Supporters Lawn is a mildly scruffy affair. My programme had pages five and six repeated on pages eleven and twelve. Some cynics have suggested that this special Henley has been an opportunity to experiment with some possible permanent changes.
However, I am being churlish. I accept that Henley Royal Regatta must constantly change to survive, and I applaud recent innovative HRR Committees of Management. Ultimately, I am just very happy to be back at the world’s most famous regatta – though I trust that most of this year’s changes are temporary.
What about the rowing? Wednesday’s results are on the website but Sir Matthew Pinsent’s “Pick of the Day” is by far the best way to get a real sense of what happened on the water on the first day of Henley 2021.
Hopefully, a selection of some of my pictures will give some idea of the atmosphere on day one.