Carry on up the Amazon as Brazil offers to run boat race

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The Independent Online
Stock up on the Pimm's and watch out for those piranhas. Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race crews may swap the gentle scenery of Putney and Mortlake for the endangered delights of the tropical rainforest if they agree to a race down the Amazon later this year.

As they prepare for the 143rd running of their annual confrontation on 29 March, the crews have received an invitation from the government of Amazonas - Brazil's largest state - to take on a team from the Brazilian Rowing Federation.

Oxford's director of rowing, Steve Royle, was understandably enthusiastic. "We are just discussing it at the moment following an invitation from Brasilia, but both ourselves and Cambridge have already said we are interested," he said.

"They have agreed to pay all our expenses, the boats and the transport. It's something different - just as long as we stay in the boat." John Snagge, whose mellifluous commentaries graced the event for more than half a century, would be turning in his grave.

The proposed date for the historic encounter is 21 September, although it will not be confirmed until after Oxford's new president is appointed in May. "When he comes in we give him a list of the invitations we have received and we ask him 'Which one would you like to go to?' " said Royle.

"It's then a matter of consultation but he would have a big say." It might be difficult to turn down this invitation.

Royle was not absolutely sure why the approach has been made, but thought that the world-wide television coverage was part of it.

"Oxford and Cambridge boat clubs are ambassadors to the rowing world, just like Manchester United is to football," he said. "If you ask anybody in the Amazon about football they would probably mention Manchester United. So if you ask them about rowing, Oxford and Cambridge would probably come up.

"But there's still only one Boat Race," Royle said. "This would purely be a 'friendly' fixture against the Brazilian Rowing Federation, with Oxford and Cambridge taking part."

The Hoorays and Sloanies could arrange a trip across the Atlantic - perhaps the explorer and Amazon veteran Redmond O'Hanlon could be persuaded to act as tour guide - and forsake their Pimm's for ayahuasca, the indigenous psychotropic drug that induces spiritual ecstasy. Maybe they'll never come back. Now that would be a result.

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