Rowing: New sponsor keeps Boat Race afloat

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The Independent Online
THE OXFORD and Cambridge Boat Race, in danger of sinking without the help of a sponsor before this year's contest on 3 April, was floated yesterday by Aberdeen Asset Management, a financial services company looking to establish a name for itself outside Scotland.

Aberdeen wants the sporting public to be aware of its existence, while race organisers want someone to help them in the coming decade of intense competition for television audiences. Despite the security of a new six- year contract with the BBC, the Boat Race has to find a way to keep its appeal as an amateur race between students while still providing first- rate sporting entertainment.

The sponsor is, in part, compensating for the fact that the race is a free show, run down the middle of the River Thames with no chance of raising gate money. The standard of the race has remained at the same level, close below Olympic performance in recent history, and the record time was set in 1998 by a crew which had the same stern pair as the German national eight which won silver at the World Championships three months later.

The coaching staff in each place is international in origin and calibre. Sean Bowden, at Oxford, spent three years as British national eight coach, while Robin Williams, at Cambridge, used four Oxford men in his Under- 23 national eight last summer. It is the opportunity of rowing with coaches of this standard which keeps top-class academic oarsmen applying.

The sponsorship comes just in time for Oxford, where plans are being developed to subsume the sport into a university-wide union, in which rowing might well have been lost altogether. The club has been fighting hard to retain its independence from the dead hand of central administration.