The countdown is on for the 2017 Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Races! The annual Boat Races are one of the key features in the Oxbridge calendar, and are among the most widely-watched sporting events in the world. However, it will be only the third time that the men’s and women’s boats have raced on the same day, on the same stretch of river.
The men’s race started in 1829, when two friends – Charles Wordsworth of Christ Church College, Oxford, and Charles Merrivale of St. John’s College, Cambridge – challenged each other to ‘row a match at or near London, each in an eight-oared boat during the ensuing Easter vacation’. The first race took place at Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, before becoming a regular fixture on the Thames in London from 1836.
The women’s race was founded almost a century later in 1927, but garnered far less support than the men’s race; there are reports that at the first race (which was held on the river Isis in Oxford), ‘large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath’. The race didn’t become a regular fixture until the 1960s, and it wasn’t until 2015 that the women’s boat race was held on the same day and on the same stretch of the Thames as the men’s race, in what was described as ‘a game-changing move’ for female sport. Rebranded as ‘The Boat Races’, the men’s and women’s crews have raced on the same day since.
As it stands, Cambridge University lead in both races; the men’s race has been won 82 times by Cambridge and 79 times by Oxford, and the women’s race has been won 41 times by Cambridge to Oxford’s 30. History students should look at what has made this event such a cornerstone in the sporting annual calendar. PBS students should look into the implications of people watching sport by gender. Economics students should look into whether larger coverage of male sports justifies wage gaps between genders.
Going into the 2017 Boat Races, there’s only one thing left to ask – which blue are you?