|An epic week in Henley-on-Thames (Photo: RR Staff)|
This year's Henley Royal Regatta was not short on excitement, crashes, upsets, and even controversy. The one thing that's indisputable, in our opinion, is that it boasted the best coverage of any regatta in the world to date, including the Olympic Games.
There is something so special about Henley. Or rather, many things. It's unique in the rowing world in terms of both its format as well as its bringing together of virtually every level of the sport. It's among the world's most historic and historically significant sporting events. And this year was certainly one for the ages.
(There's an excellent writeup by Martin Gough on the Hugga Rowlup blog here.)
Given all that, there's a strong argument that FISA has much to learn from Henley Royal Regatta in terms of both potential diversification of racing formats, as well as garnering a worldwide audience through the use of YouTube and other social media outlets. The Henley organizing committee deserves a tremendous amount of credit for embracing technology and producing—as we said earlier—the finest coverage, from beginning to end, of any regatta, bar none.
But with that new technology also come new issues to face, and in one instance, it doesn't appear that those issues were addressed properly, before or after the fact.
We're talking, of course, about that race. The one where A.S.R. Nereus looked to be clear winners, but who saw the title bestowed upon Leander Club—a crew that also rowed an excellent race, albeit a slightly slower one.
Here's why we take issue with how this ruling came about:
1. Nereus had a lead and edged closer to Leander, as is universally done in match racing. As they did so, Umpire Boris Rankov—among the legends of our sport, and among the most experienced Umpires to boot—called for Nereus to move back toward their station, which they eventually did. At no point were the two crews in danger of coming together, and Nereus spent a good deal of the third quarter of the race much closer to the booms than Leander.
UPDATE: Sir Matthew Pinsent informs us that because the red flag had been raised at the end of the race, there was no need for Leander to register an official complaint. He says that, to the best of his knowledge, Rankov was informing Leander and the rest of the interested parties that he would be checking with Sir Steve Redgrave to review the race (this is audible in the video). Therefore, whether Leander lodged an official complaint is irrelevant, outside of the fact that it would seem to indicate that Leander didn't immediately feel that they had been impeded by Nereus.
3. After review, the only official statement from the Regatta, credited to the Chairman and posted to the Henley Royal Regatta Facebook page, was the following:
“Really sad result. But there are standards and procedures that all crews need to abide by, and A.S.R. Nereus stepped over the mark. The Umpire is the only person who is in charge of the race and needs to be adhered by.”
This is about as vague as it gets. Was the decision that Nereus had impeded or hindered Leander? It certainly doesn't sound like it from the above. What, then?
4. The answer to the above question seems to be, from the race video also included above, that upon official review of the video, Nereus coach Diederik Simon was seen to have gestured to his crew to follow the Umpire's instructions. This constitutes a violation of the rules against 'coaching from the launch/bank,' which are very strict. End of story, right?
5. No, not really. The above ruling is based on a video replay, which calls into question the entire process of officiating the Regatta. Ironically, this is a direct result of the fantastic coverage of the event we just described. Are all races going forward to be subject to video review, in their entirety? If the verdict came about because Nereus was found, upon review, to have hindered Leander, why not simply say that? That this was not stated seems to indicate that there was insufficient evidence to disqualify Nereus based on steering alone.
UPDATE: Sir Matthew Pinsent informs us that, to the best of his knowledge, Boris Rankov indeed want to review the race both for possible signaling as well as interference.
6. This means that Henley needs to update their procedures, just as most major sports have done, to reflect the importance of replay. If every aspect of a race is to be subject to scrutiny based on available video, then the rules and regulations should include that.
Apparently, we've got our work cut out for us!
@rowingrelated write the rule then - pint of Pimms (2017) if its better or clearer than the current ones ;)— Matthew Pinsent (@matthewcpinsent) July 5, 2016
7. Lastly, if you're going to be the Umpire of a Henley Final that involves Leander, maybe don't wear a cerise tie. We're sure that Rankov acted as he did out of a sense of fairness, and was not biased toward Leander's crew. But why would you leave that open to question? When officiating in a race that involves the hometown crew, one would think it would be better to go out of one's way to avoid any display of allegiance.
Now, here's the tricky part—all of the above is actually a further compliment to the Regatta.
Henley is truly global now. The event had more foreign crews than ever this year. More people are interested, more are watching, and the results have been that Henley has become arguably the premier rowing event in the world. That means there's no room for vague, bureaucratic musings anymore—the thought process behind the decision above should be clearly laid out in an official statement. It should also be a wakeup call to officials at regattas around the world that the more coverage that rowing receives, the more we have to prepare to officiate effectively under those circumstances.
Just like every other sport, we have to understand the implications of embracing technology and make changes to our procedures to reflect that understanding.
So, hats off to the Regatta Stewards and everyone involved in putting on Henley Royal Regatta this year. It was truly outstanding, from start to finish. And the best part is, it can get even better.