Boat Race 2021 moved away from River Thames

2 December, 2020 / by Matt Smith

Image above: crowds gather on Hammersmith Bridge at a previous boat race.

The 2021 Boat Race is being moved from its traditional route along the River Thames for only the second time in its history. The race has been shifted to the River Ouse at Ely, and will take place on 4 April.

Hammersmith Bridge, which the race passes under, is currently closed, including the area underneath the bridge and the organisers also have concerns about the potential for spreading Covid-19 among the 250,000 spectators who are likely to have gathered along the riverbanks if the race were to have gone ahead.

The Boat Race organisers said: “the decision to relocate the 2021 event reflects the challenge of planning a high-profile amateur event around continuing COVID related restrictions as well as uncertainty regarding the safety and navigation of Hammersmith Bridge.

Dr George Gilbert, Chair of BRCL’s Race and Operations Committee:

“Everyone is facing significant challenges right now, especially students up and down the country. Organising sport safely and responsibly is our highest priority and moving The Boat Race to Ely in 2021 enables the event to go ahead in a secure environment.

“While we are sad not to be able to welcome the usual hundreds of thousands of spectators along the course, we will be inviting our communities and wider audience to get involved via our social media channels, and to enjoy the historic event on the BBC.”

The last time the race was moved to different location was during the Second World War in 1944, where it also took place along the River Ouse.

Image above: Chiswick Pier by Anna Kunst

“A shame”- Chiswick Pier Trust

Gill Exton organises the annual Boat Race party at Chiswick Pier on behalf of the Chiswick Pier Trust. She told The Chiswick Calendar it was a “shame”. The Trust would miss the opportunity to get people involved in the goings-on on the river.

“It brings people to the river … it’s part of our charitable aims to bring people down to the river; it increases people’s awareness of Chiswick Pier and its activities.

“A lot of people don’t even realise that there is the Chiswick Pier Trust. People certainly don’t know we do talks, cruises, painting days and all sorts of different activities”.

The Boat Race represents the biggest opportunity of the year to introduce the public to the Trust’s work.

“Also, it’s a great community event. There’s good community spirit and it’s fun! It’s also a very important part is that it’s a fundraiser, given we are a charity.”

Image above: Thames Tradesmen Rowing Club training

“Better to watch on TV” – Thames Tradesmen

Paul Arnold of Thames Tradesmen’s Rowing Club said it would be better to catch coverage of the race on the TV and that a full bar would not be realistic with Covid restrictions.

“Frankly it makes very little difference to us” Paul told The Chiswick Calendar.

‘We do not look after them. By the time they pass our boathouse the race is almost always already decided. In the past we always had a full bar, but of course with Covid that was not going to happen anyway.

‘Personally watching the boat race live is a bit of a non event – the TV coverage is so much better because it’s closer and you see all the race! So whilst it will be less of a social event, we must accept that reducing the number of social magnets needs to be avoided.
“I am just really pleased it is still going ahead. I feel really sorry for those final year students last year who trained so hard to row in this ‘defining moment’ in life – and had that snatched away from them”.

Image above: Paul Hyman – Found and Director of Active360, single use plastic cups in the thames

Good that the River Thames won’t be full of Boat Race litter – Paul Hyman

Environmental campaigner Paul Hyman, who runs the paddleboarding company Active 360 at Kew Bridge, welcomed the move because he says plastic pollution in the river associated with event is a massive issue. Active360 organise frequent river cleanups.

Speaking to The Chiswick Calendar Paul said:

“All of the pubs and bars along the river were dishing out single-use plastic cups. So we’ve been trying to encourage the pubs to use re-usable cups. Some of the bars tried out re-usable cups but there is quite a lot of plastic pollution which is thrown in the river. So, there has been a negative impact and that’s been going on for years.

“There’s also the issue of bins over-flowing all along the riverside and the council not making adequate provision to empty the bins. During the day and immediately afterwards you had stuff that was just blowing into the river.

“So there’s definitely some negative impacts that happen to the river which won’t be happening now by it moving.”

In 2019, the environmental damage of the race was mitigated by Paul’s campaign ‘In the Drink’, which aimed to rid the Thames of plastic waste by persuading pubs and anyone near the river not to use single use plastic straws and cups.

“I’m not anti-Boat Race at all I think it’s a great event but it hasn’t been managed properly over the years and until very recently the organisers didn’t seem all that interested in the environmental impact but that was changing a little bit recently. I think they’re starting to realise the impact and increase of plastic pollution in the river which happens as a result.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Boat Race cancelled, first time since WW2

See also: In The Drink calls ‘last orders’ on single-use plastic cups

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