Skip to content

The trials of the weekend…

I’ve been away the last ten days, enjoying a break over Easter after hanging up my quiver at the end of my term as Chair of Archery GB.  Leaving the country sadly meant missing trials last weekend, but I returned to a flood of Twitter notifications in connection with them which cannot be answered within the site’s character limit. I am therefore taking to my blog.

The tweet that started it all off read as follows: “British Rowing seem intent on alienating their supporters. Final Trials behind closed doors, media coverage censored. Any comment ” Posted on the morning of Easter Day, it was followed just a few hours later by the first reply, of “Obviously not”, from Philip Collins. Mate, I’m sure your mama told you: you can’t hurry, love. You’ll just have to wait. It was Easter Day and I was on holiday. Sorry for not being there to respond 24/7.

After that, plenty of others waded in. Someone from  Canada commented that, “Don’t see what benefit this has. With times posted – are other nations seeing some innovative technique, boat, oars or rig? They aren’t. Great idea – let’s keep making rowing less accessible to the mainstream sports fan. An already expensive Olympic sport with niche viewership,” while from closer to home in Wallingford, another posted, “Agree. Missed opportunity to showcase to potential domestic audience our excellence without real sporting risk.” 47 people liked the original tweet, and two re-tweeted it.

So, any comment, markxdavies? Well as you ask, I would make three points.

As a starter – and leaving aside the fact that other sports appear to be able to run their own trials and their own training sessions as they please, with no-one batting an eyelid – I would say it is debatable whether not publishing times or allowing live videos is useful (to any future opposition) or not, and therefore whether there is any need for (or anything to be gained from) secrecy.

At the very least, it’s easy to see both sides of the case. I can’t myself see how anything massively useful could be gleaned from people seeing footage. But then, even at a club level, I can think of examples where coaches don’t want other clubs to know how their crews are going. So, as one of the respondents to the original tweet commented, you could understand why we might not want other nations to see too much about our trials, just as they don’t want us to know about theirs.

On that point, it is notable to me from a quick look at what others do, that we in Britain are not an outlier in the stance that we take. The tweeter from Canada, for example, seems not to have noticed that the Canadians appear to publish neither video of racing nor results, which puts them in line with Australia and many others. The Americans have live-streamed in the past, but appear not to have done so this past weekend (although they did subsequently publish results), and they have made explicit that they won’t be doing so either on 16th-19th May or 6-7th July. The Germans, admittedly, are a bit more open – they live-streamed audio (although not pictures) and put results out afterwards. But just as we aren’t the exemplar of transparency, neither are we the most closed: ex-NZ Olympian Eric Murray tweeted the other day about secrecy around NZ trials, saying that until recently not even the competitors were given the times and results. So, while many of us don’t understand the “secrecy thing”, it’s worth noting that international coaches all over the world take a broadly similar view on it.  Meanwhile, aside from streaming and times, it seems to me that when it comes to giving out information, we are way ahead of many other countries’ NGBs on social media – of which, more below.

But to return to the point: for what it’s worth, and speaking personally as an outsider, I would probably publish results and not myself be wary of video footage, particularly with so few opportunities available for people to see the best in the country compete. But the amount that it’s worth, now I think of it, is not a lot. I’m not a Director of Performance, nor part of a coaching team – still less a head coach; and if I were, I think I would consider it would be fair enough for me to be allowed to run my own programme my own way. I suspect I would take that view even if I were a rookie, but I’d think it particularly relevant if I had proved myself capable of coaching crews to lots of medals. Whether someone on Twitter (or indeed the Chair of British Rowing) sees (or doesn’t see) what the benefit is in my holding my cards closer to my chest than they would, is frankly worth not a row a beans. None of us are running the programme. When we are, we can make our own decisions about where benefit can be gained – and if we do so with the same track record of success as our current coaching team, then bully for us.

My second point would be around the issues of accessibility, where I hope it will surprise no-one to know that I agree wholeheartedly about its real importance for us as a sport.  Because of that view, I was absolutely delighted to see what (in my opinion) was some absolutely fabulous photography sent out throughout the day on Instagram – not just by the team at British Rowing (who also put out over 100 tweets over the weekend to keep people in touch, in addition to publishing articles), but rather gloriously from clubs that had competitors of their own. I also loved the marvellous series of interviews with competitors and all six winners, which introduced a level of accessibility which I thought myself was extremely impressive. Some of the images were absolutely stunning, and in my view they showcased the sport as well as anything possibly could. They gave you a real desire to be on the water – far more than the knowledge of whether one boat was a few seconds faster than another would ever have done, and arguably (for a non-rower) more, even, than the intensity of racing.

When it comes to the times, I would go as far as to say that it seems genuinely odd that anyone other than rowing geeks like me would actually be interested, or where the idea would come from that publishing times rather than brilliant images and fantastic videos is a better way to capture a new audience. It seems to me that times are of interest to people within the sport, and of none at all to people outside it – so the accessibility argument falls away. I am clearly missing something there, and stand to be corrected in short order – but it is worth noting that in total British Rowing shared 180 pieces of content across three channels in the build up to and during the weekend, with a reach of 848,000 people. Maybe I have lower expectations than some, but – not least in the context of our having 32,000 members – that strikes me as quite a result.

My third and final point relates to the start of the tweet: “British Rowing seem intent on alienating their supporters.” Really? Do you really think that? Do people honestly and truly believe that allowing the coaching and performance team to make their own decisions about how they want to run trials, at the same time as having the comms team work around the clock to put out images and information as mentioned above, is about British Rowing being “intent on alienating” people? That we come in every day trying to find ways to annoy people? Seriously?

You know, if someone had tweeted, “Brilliant stuff from the team. Thanks a lot for all the info you’ve put out. Hopefully in future years we will get times as well, and maybe even live streaming, because lots of us in the sport would be really interested in both,” I might have quite a lot of sympathy. We are keen to find (and are actively exploring) ways to give more visibility to the top end of the sport for the members as a whole, so the comment that I was asked for would have been something on the lines of, “yup, right with you there – we’re working on solutions”.

But as it stands, not so much. The negativity of people believing that we’re “intent on alienating people”; of introducing hashtags like “StalagCaversham”; of responding to one of those 100 tweets which happened to contain a typo that mistakenly turned Newcastle into “Newscastle” with, “It is actually spelt NEWCASTLE, but you have probably never been there nor heard of it” – all these I think are deeply depressing, since you ask my view.  Maybe it’s just Twitter. But the hashtags I’d sooner be after are #PullingTogether, and #thankstotheteamforajobwelldone.




Posted in British Rowing, My articles.

6 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. fatsculler says

    Hi Mark,
    first of all thank you for taking the time to blog in response to some of the comments on twitter. I hope you enjoyed your holiday. As you can probably tell from the comments on social media there is a huge amount of frustration among the British team supporters that we cannot get an opportunity to watch the team in action on home shores (especially frustrating as it now appears British Rowing haven’t bid to host an International regatta until at least 2025 – but that’s another story!)
    You say people should be satisfied with the photography, and yes, I would agree there were some excellent images from the weekend, but this is nowhere near enough. People would dearly love to watch the racing live, whether in person onsite (which I know at Caversham is nigh on impossible) or via a livestream. To be told that one of the few specialist rowing journalists had to remove the 20 second video’s she posted of the semi-finals or risk losing her accreditation is taking the whole secrecy thing way too far, especially as this has been the “norm” for Rachel Quarrell (and also Martin Cross) for many years.
    Having spoken to a lot of the athletes over the years they would relish the opportunity to perform at trials in front of a crowd. You only have to look at how popular they were when held at Dorney in 2011 and 2012 to see that (despite active discouragement) 100’s if not 1000’s of people turned up to watch.
    I still think the whole secrecy thing is also a non-starter as the final times (including splits) were published on social media within hours of the racing finishing.
    The British Rowing twitter was OK, but just giving the top 3 finishers in a final isn’t enough for most people, also spelling an athletes name wrong is disappointing (Calling Anastasia Posner, Pinner).
    What you describe as “negativity” is more frustration borne of the fact that the GB Team feels incredibly isolated from it home support and we are denied the opportunity to watch them in action on one of the incredibly rare times they are actually racing on home soil. It is because we care so deeply about the team that we get so frustrated.

  2. Mark Davies says

    I understand frustration, Daniel, and I am certainly grateful that people do feel deeply. I don’t personally think, though, that it is a reason to suggest publicly that BR is intent on alienating its members – particularly when the opposite is true. I greatly regret it if you actually believe that, and would seek to assure you that you are wrong. I think that the best way to solve the frustrations is to take as a starting point the idea that we are all part of the same team here, and I’m on a mission to change the mindset that appears to think otherwise.

    Just as a point of correction, I have seen the email correspondence between the comms team and Rachel. I am guessing you haven’t, given your comment above, inasmuch as Rachel was (a) not asked to remove any clips, and (b) not threatened with the removal of any accreditation, as you suggest. (Indeed, there wasn’t even a formal accreditation process.)

    The wording on the email she was sent on 20th April, I can quote for you directly. It said, “At this moment in time, we would appreciate your help by not filming/broadcasting, or recording for publication, any video of the racing at Trials on Sunday, 21 April. This includes any highlights.” She sent a perfectly courteous reply with a few queries, and some suggestions around how it would be good to clarify what is and isn’t welcomed by the team.

    My understanding is that Rachel was absolutely welcomed, and given full access (including interviews with both the Director of Performance and Chief Coach) – and that in addition, Brendan actually stopped on the tow path on Saturday to give her more time off the record. As I have known Rachel for a very long time, I am sure she will be the first to get in touch and let me know if she believes otherwise. She knows I am always happy to get her view.

  3. fatsculler says

    Re RQ being asked to remove videos. You say she wasn’t yet she tweeted she was? (Her tweet sent at 23:17 on 20/4/19 reads “I have been asked by British Rowing to take down the videos of racing from trials so will do that now.” Your comment above is actually contradictory you say “a) was not asked to remove any clips” but then go on to quote an email asking her not to film any videos”?
    Maybe I’m confused at the wording. As I’ve said in my original comment, journalists including RQ have filmed brief clips of trials for years without any issue, why is this year any different?

  4. Mark Davies says

    I am not sure why Rachel would have tweeted that when the wording of the email which I have quoted for you is quite clear: she was asked not to put any further up. Equally, I am not sure what is contradictory or even confusing between “a) was not asked to remove any clips” and “quote an email asking her not to film any videos”. If I ask you to stop doing something that you were doing, it means please stop doing it, not please undo what you have already done. And it certainly is not, as you have said, threatening you with some sanction unless you undo it.

  5. fatsculler says

    Hi Mark,
    I’d be interested in your thoughts on the fact that RQ was told not to film racing, yet Cam Buchan has posted a vlog on YouTube with quite a lot of clips from the A Finals?

  6. says

    Sorry – didn’t see this because I hadn’t returned to my blog. My understanding is that permission had been given in advance and the basis of what could be shown was agreed. There was also a film crew there, on the same basis.

You must be logged in to post a comment.