Rowing: Henley moves quietly with the times

Professionals and women stewards have played no part in Henley Royal Regatta's 158-year history, but that is all about to change. Regatta officials announced yesterday that for the first time a woman has been elected to the Henley board. In another significant change the word "amateur" has been struck from Henley's rules.

Di Ellis, who has chaired the executive committee of the Amateur Rowing Association for 10 years, and has recently been elected to the British Olympic Association, is the first woman to be made a Steward of the Regatta since it was founded in 1839.

In keeping with this move the regatta, which enjoyed one of its most successful years in 1997 and saw an increase in profits, has cut the word amateur from all its rules so that oarsmen, and women single scullers, may now receive money from any source. The regatta will try to avoid being used in advertising and sponsorship stunts and will offer no prize-money.

The Stewards acknowledge that the top performers in the sport can now earn as much as pounds 150,000 a year, earnings which are permitted by the international governing body of rowing, Fisa. The Amateur Rowing Association is expected to approve similar alterations in early 1998 along with a change of name.

In four years up to 1996 Henley filled one leg of the Fisa World Cup competition for scullers and created the Princess Royal Challenge Cup as the women's equivalent of the Diamond Sculls.

In place of the amateur rule, the regatta is now concentrating on eligibility. In the case of the main schools event, the Princess Elizabeth Cup, it permits another seven weeks for entrants by limiting the event to those who have not reached 19 by the end of the regatta. An ancient loophole, which allowed entries to the open small boats events to private individuals, has now been closed with the insistence that all competitors have been a member for at least two months of a club affiliated to a national federation for at least 12 months.

The changes agreed by the Stewards have simply brought the regatta in line with most of the other institutions in the sport, and will not appear radical when the 1998 regatta opens on 1st July.

In addition to Ellis, two oarsmen, Richard Stanhope, 40, and Richard Phelps, 32, were elected Stewards.

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