I have been involved in a lot of sports over the years. I have competed in footy (AFL) , cricket, tennis, track and field, cross-country running, soccer, volleyball, table tennis, indoor cricket and cycling, without exception as a passionate participant of low to middling ability. I have also been involved as a spectator and/or parent official in any sport that my daughter has been involved in. One sport that I had never had much interest in was rowing. That was until three years ago, when my daughter announced she’d like to give it a crack at school.
My knowledge of rowing was limited to viewing Olympic events accompanied by the excited tones of Peter Landy, the man who made famous the phrase “scores are level, ?? points each of two.” I had also attended uni with two rowing gold medallists in my class, Peter Antonie and James Tomkins. They were both impressive human beings with bodies to match. I knew that there was a lot of training involved and that it was a sport that didn’t come cheap but not much else.
My daughter took to rowing like a duck to water. Having been a promising middle-distance runner, she relished the camaraderie of being back in a team sport, and got injured a whole lot less. My knowledge of the sport increased slowly from a very low base and I quickly grew to not only accept but enjoy the before dawn rises for transport to training as well as the Saturday regattas. The thing which stood out was that the sport requires a lot of commitment and discipline from rowers, coaches, officials and parents alike. You simply don’t get too many ratbags in a sport where very early mornings are an important ingredient. They are all in the same boat, pun intended !!
One of the things that I learnt very early on was that the schoolgirl season culminated in the Head of School Girls (HOSG) regatta in March. Bemusingly to me, this is a much bigger prize than the State Championships held a couple of weeks prior. Yes, HOSG is the Grand Final and is quite an event. It is held on the Barwon River, runs all day Saturday and Sunday and is claimed by Rowing Victoria to be the largest single gender rowing regatta in the southern hemisphere, attracting over 1200 athletes and 10,000 spectators over the weekend.
Anyway, I am getting to the point. Every year HOSG is held the week before the Associated Public Schools (APS) regatta. HOSG is open to all schools in Victoria, and is, obviously, restricted to girls. The APS event is open to APS schools only and has events for boys and girls. Many of the APS schools are single-sex boys schools so the girls events play a clear second fiddle to the boys. The girls at APS co-ed schools get to row HOSG one week and the APS the following week.
But not this year !! Somehow the APS and HOSG events are being held on the same weekend, the coming weekend of 16-17 March. The APS schools have had to choose which event their girls will attend, and understandably, most have prioritised the APS, as they can have their whole rowing squads there.
This is a big blow to HOSG and to girls’ sport. It’s roughly equivalent to the Australian Open tennis having its men’s and women’s finals at the same time – which one would get the most attention ? The men of course. Women’s sport gets a bum run in the media and female participation in sport drops off sharply in the teenage years. With a growing rate of obesity in our population, and clearly established benefits to mental health from exercise, surely we should be doing everything possible to promote girls’ sport and give the schoolgirl rowers their day (or weekend) in the sun ?
I rang Rowing Victoria to learn how this had occurred. Apparently it is due to the national championships being held in Sydney from 18-24 March, making the March 23- 24 weekend unattractive or unavailable to APS and Rowing Victoria wanting to stick to its traditional third weekend in March date. Unfortunately this clash is also scheduled to occur again in 2014.
It is a great shame that this situation has occurred this year. It is incumbent upon Rowing Victoria and the APS to collaborate to not let this occur in 2014 or indeed ever again. In the meantime, may both regattas be great successes this weekend and may the girls get plenty of coverage, albeit inevitably it will be less than the boys.