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Moving Senior Champs

It’s been a difficult week.   We announced on Wednesday that at a meeting the day before, the Board ratified the change of date for Senior Championships to the weekend of June 15th. It would be inaccurate to say that that was the cue for a lot of incoming, because I had had a lot of incoming ahead of the meeting itself. Many sensible points had been made, and many suggestions mooted. In the event, though, the change happened anyway – to the general charge that British Rowing wasn’t listening. How could people love the Governing Body, I was asked, when we make decisions like that? “From the geniuses who brought us PRI,” posted another on Facebook. “What a bunch of morons.”

What’s interesting about this is not the emotion and passion of the comments, which I think is something all of us share. What is interesting is how clear it is that people do not understand the role of the Board, or me, or British Rowing as a whole. It is hardly surprising, in that context, that everyone thinks we are berks.

The meeting on Tuesday was not about choosing a date. Everyone round the table has a different view of which date would be best, and the opinions of the directors absolutely reflect the diversity of suggestions in the thread I was copied into on Twitter. My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that a tiered championships might be interesting, or that the National Championships could potentially be fantastic as a series, over a number of weekends – a bit like the Six Nations. Piggy-backing onto other regattas by taking a few racing slots at each, such a format would ensure that high-quality crews turned up to race in places that they might not otherwise attend; would give more people the chance to see some of the best crews in the country; allow us to build a narrative that  might attract media interest (or at least, broader involvement than those present on just one day); and – who knows – even pull in larger crowds. It would mean that we (British Rowing) could have a presence at events where we would otherwise never be seen, which would connect us more to the membership; and perhaps in the process we could talk to a lot of people about what it is we do. That might be a good idea.

Or it might be complete nonsense. There are probably a dozen logistical reasons why it doesn’t make sense, and quite possibly some political ones as well. I have no idea. I haven’t suggested it before, and it wasn’t on the table on Tuesday. I haven’t considered it at enormous length, because it isn’t up to me. If it was, it wouldn’t need to go to the Board and I could just decide. But it’s not, and as I can’t, I’ll just submit it as idea when we conduct the consultation we have announced into the whole calendar. The relevant people can decide if it has merit then. For now, it doesn’t really matter.

But here’s the point: every single member of the Board had thoughts of their own – probably less crazy than mine. Some would love Senior Champs to be part of Squad Trials. Some want it on a Bank Holiday in May. I know there are voices in favour of it being after Henley Royal, and others who think it could stay where it is. It’s not surprising that each of us has a view: we’re all people with opinions about rowing – same as you and everyone else.

But we didn’t spend time discussing all those views on Tuesday, because choosing dates for competitions is not part of the Board’s role.  What we did instead is what the Board is there to do: taking our remit to act in the best interests of the sport, we debated whether the process and governance around a proposal that had been put to us by the Sport Committee (whose remit it is) was sound. The Sport Committee consists of the volunteers responsible for events and competition, and is a set of people who are unarguably expert in delivering the sport week in, week out. Our job at the Board was to establish that they had considered all reasonable alternatives, and we grilled the Chair of the Sport Committee accordingly. We put to him every point that had been sent to us in advance, in order to satisfy ourselves that each had been considered and that for each, there was an answer. When we ran out of questions, we voted. Not on the date, but on whether we accepted the recommendation – a decision that we based on whether we felt that the volunteer Committee with the relevant remit had done its job.

My point is not to deflect blame, or indeed to give credit (since there are some in the sport who are delighted with the announcement, as I know from the fact that the need to move from October is probably the single most mentioned topic in comments directed at me on Twitter, after PRI). It is simply to point out who has ownership of what, which is not something I have decided but is a structure that the sport (and its members) have created. So when people rail at the National Governing Body, they miss the fact that we act within the framework of the sport as it is laid down by the members, and as it is explained on the website in the corporate handbook for the sport.  Volunteer committees, which comprise Chairs who come up through the regional system (and which any member is in a position to get involved with, if they think that what happens is wrong), make decisions like this – not the British Rowing executive, and not the Board. “The geniuses who brought you PRI” (I’ll defend that one another day) and the people who chose a weekend in June for senior championships, are two different sets of people. To lump everything you aren’t happy about together simply as “bloody British Rowing” is fundamentally to misunderstand the structure of the sport.

To be clear, I am neither attacking nor defending the choice of date. The reasons why it was picked over other options will be detailed in the March edition of Rowing and Regatta, where the Chair of the Sport Committee can explain to you, as he did to us, all the reasons why alternatives which had been considered were rejected. The Board itself – as I made very clear to them as we started to consider the issue – was not there to give an opinion on the specific date chosen: we were there to examine the governance and process by which the proposal had been made by the set of people that the sport tasks to make it. We also had to decide whether the final outcome was in the best interests of the sport, which meant considering not just the way the date was chosen and its impact on other events (which every date would have), but the Sport Committee’s view that if it wasn’t that weekend in June, there would be no Senior Champs at all in 2019, and maybe not in 2020 either – as well, of course, of what the wider implications would be of rejecting the advice we were being offered.

In the end, we decided on balance that the proposal should be approved, so the date will move as a trial for a year. Whether people like the outcome or don’t like it, though, they need at least to understand why and how decisions for the sport are made.  It makes no sense for the NGB to be held to account for areas that don’t sit within its remit, particularly when it is the structures of the sport – as determined by the membership – that dictate what does and what doesn’t.

Posted in British Rowing.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Don't mention the B word - BritChamps - WEROW linked to this post on February 7, 2019

    […] Rowing chairman Mark Davies says in his personal blog that the reasons behind the BritChamps move will be set out at length in the March edition of […]

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