North America's oldest sport event needs to get rid of sexist practices, says regatta rower

Before the 200th Royal St. John's Regatta next year, Amanda Hancock wants to see some changes to how the event is run.

Amanda Hancock, champion rower of M5 women's team, wrote letter in The Telegram

The M5 crew hoists the regatta trophy Aug. 2, after once again becoming the women's champions. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

A member of the women's champion rowing team at this year's Royal St. John's Regatta says it's time to get rid of sexist policies and make rowing more inclusive for all.

Amanda Hancock's M5 team placed first in the 199th rowing of the regatta, the oldest documented sporting event in North America, last week at Quidi Vidi Lake.

It's almost like we're taking a step backwards.- Amanda Hancock

But she says there are outdated policies that prevent female rowers from pushing their limits, and which prevent men from trying other courses, and generally exclude some people.

"It's a systemic issue at the moment because that's how it's always been, and we hope to change it in the future," she told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Monday.

Hancock first voiced her issues in a letter published Aug. 1 in the Telegram, outlining a number of practices and standards that she said were unfair and which she hoped would be addressed before next year's 200th rowing.

Amanda Hancock, speaking with the St. John's Morning Show on Aug. 7, says there are unfair disadvantages for female and youth rowers in the regatta. (CBC)

For the championship race, Hancock said, it has been the standard that women row first, and the men row last, at a time in the evening when the water conditions are at their best.

This gives the men's teams an unfair advantage, said Hancock, who added it could be addressed by simply alternating who gets to row first in the final each year.

'We're taking a step backwards'

In addition, she said, the men's rowers are given first preference to qualify through time trials, even before the elite women's teams.

"The regatta has been happening for a long time, so a lot of these issues have just sort of been how they are for a long time and that's how it's always been, just the accepted way," said Hancock.

"The recreational men's crews were rowing before the competitive women's crews got a chance on time trials. So it's almost like we're taking a step backwards."

Just like people need different size shoes, they need different heights of their oarlocks.- Amanda Hancock

Another issue is equipment regulations. Previously, rowers were allowed to bring their own seats, and put a board or some material underneath to give them the height they need to have their oars at the correct level.

When fixed seats were put in the boat, the committee allowed rowers to use oarlocks, meaning they could adjust their oar height to where they needed it to row comfortably.

"Just like people need different size shoes, they need different heights of their oarlocks," said Hancock.

But then a couple of days before the start of competition, the oarlocks were banned, which became a big disadvantage for female and youth rowers, Hancock said.

Amanda Hancock explains why having a set height for the oar puts some female and youth rowers at a disadvantage 0:50

"It has to do with the weight in the boat. Senior men's crews get in and most of them weigh the boat down enough so that the default height is set for those crews, but when lighter crews get in the boat they need to be able to adjust it down," she said.

"It's an uncomfortable position and it slows the boat down seconds, I would say, over the women's course."

Restricted due to gender

And the women's course itself is an issue, Hancock said.

Women's teams are only allowed to competitively row the half lake course, while the men's team can only row the full lake course.

I think more can be done to address the fundamental issues of sport.- Amanda Hancock

For Hancock, that just doesn't make sense.

"In the long run I think we should have a conversation about women being able to row the full course and men being able to row the half course if they want," she said.

"Maybe it's another day, but you shouldn't be restricted to the distance that you row because of your gender."

Hancock and her fellow rowers on M5 even went so far as to submit a six-page document to the regatta committee, but did not receive a response or confirmation that it has been received or reviewed.

M5 reclaimed their crown at the 2017 Royal St. John's Regatta, but rower Amanda Hancock says the team has been pushing for some changes to the event. (Alyson Samson/CBC)

They've asked for multiple meetings, Hancock said, but have never gotten one.

"We recognize that the committee is volunteer and [they] work very hard to put off the regatta, but in this particular case I think more can be done to address the fundamental issues of sport," she said.

"There was at some point collaboration to say, 'It's the 200th what do rowers want to see,' but we couldn't really talk about the fundamental issues of the sport that make things fair and inclusive and best practices. We just were invited to give input about the celebrations — like to have cake or to have a band."

In her letter in the Telegram, Amanda Hancock argues that the women's rowing at the Royal St. John's Regatta has become more competitive and has more teams than the men's rowing, and allowing them to row last some years could mean more people stay later to watch. (Jef Combdon)

With files from the St. John's Morning Show