HAVOC at Oxbridge Boat Race

The Oxford and Cambridge rowing race is one of the longest running sports events IN THE WORLD. 2012’s race took place yesterday on the River Thames from Putney Bridge to […]

The Oxford and Cambridge rowing race is one of the longest running sports events IN THE WORLD. 2012’s race took place yesterday on the River Thames from Putney Bridge to Mortlake – and it was one of the most dramatic so far in the 158-year history of the race, with 3 episodes taking place.

A SWIMMER disrupted the movement of the Oxford boat, which led to a restart, during which an oar broke, and one of the rowers collapsed. The most unusual of the things that went wrong was undoubtedly the man taking a swim in the Thames, something which I’m sure you’ve heard about.

When I found out this news I was completely baffled; as a rower I have experienced boat collisions with SWANS, DOGS and GIANT BUOYS in the past, but this is something else. On top of this, the concept of swimming in the way of a 100kg boat being moved by 8 carbon fibre blades at 14/15mph is limited to those who have a death wish (not to mention the press boats and launches following in this instance). The papers weren’t wrong when they said he could have had his head knocked off! Across the country the story made for funny reading.

But the swimmer’s intentions were not funny at all. The man was Trenton Oldfield, director of a group called This Is Not a Gateway, whose disturbance of the boat race was an act of protest against elitism.

In his (extremely long) blog, hyperbolically entitled ‘ELITISM LEADS TO TYRANNY’, he claims that the boat race is “where elitists and those with elitist sympathies have come together every year but one for the last 158 years to perform..their ambition for the structures and subsequent benefits from elitism and privilege to continue”. As a rower I can’t disagree with this more. Despite what the stereotypes suggest, rowing is not a sport for social ‘elitists’ – the physical demands outweigh the social stereotypes attached, which means that anyone who has physical power, commitment and a (strong) sense of competition can get involved, regardless of their class. To dismiss the purpose of the boat race as being for ‘elitism and privilege to continue’ is a stereotype and an insult to the months – possibly years – of training that goes into it.

Oldfield also describes an attitude of ‘pseudo competition’, suggesting that the competition element of the race is fake. The race’s long history has consolidated Oxbridge’s sense of competition: considering this and the rowers’ demanding 7-month training plans Oldfield’s interpretation is quite frankly so uninformed that it’s almost laughable.

“Maybe rowing’s not elitist”, I hear you say, “but Oxbridge certainly is”. They also suffer from having this stereotype attached, but times are changing: even the Guardian – a publication known to be biased against Oxbridge – cannot deny the figures, which state loud and clear that the success gap between ethnic minority applicants and white applicants was never more than 50% (for ANY Oxford or Cambridge college). Oxbridge are ancient institutions and therefore very prestigious, accepting only the very best applicants – regardless of colour or creed. This means that if the best applicants happen to be white, it would be unfair to turn them down for fear of seeming ‘too elitist’.

Leading on from the fact that the boat race was a poor paradigm of elitism at which to stage his protest, Oldfield’s overall motives are unclear. His extensive blog fails to provide an actual solution or a specific aim to his protest other than a desire to cause disruption. This implies that he is merely someone who wants their 15 minutes of fame – furthermore, on his return to land via speedboat, he smirked for the cameras whilst the vast crowd all booed at him.

After the swimmer caused the Oxford boat to stop, the race was re-started about half an hour later. The drama wasn’t over, however, when one of the Oxford oarsmen broke his blade after a clash of oars with Cambridge.

Oxford's broken oar.

As if that wasn’t enough, Oxford’s bow Alexander Woods collapsed at the end of the race for unknown medical reasons.

Oxford's bow was taken ill.

All is inconclusive at the moment, but Alexander Woods was taken to hospital, and Oldfield was arrested on suspicion of a public disorder offence.