Scrap gendered St. John's Regatta course restriction, says record-setting rower
'We're looking at the options,' says committee head on gauging interest
The Royal St. John's Regatta has done away with its gendered course names — now calling races a full or half course, rather than the previously titled men's and women's courses — but a champion rower says it's time to open up all courses, to everyone.
Amanda Hancock rowed for three years with the M5 team, the women's group who set the fastest time for the half course at the 2018 Regatta — the 200th anniversary of the event.
"Women who row, they're rowers — they don't necessarily have to be 'lady rowers' — and men rowers are just rowers, you know?" said Hancock.
"Those changes have been really positive and really excellent, and so just kind of on the heels of seeing those things change, the other thing that we need to start thinking about in the future is opening up the longer course to women's crews and then the short course … to men's crews."
Controversy about who can row in which race isn't new, with the debate going back decades, but Hancock said it's past time to make the changes.
"The Regatta is one of the oldest sporting events in North America and it's steeped in tradition, and that's why we love it," she told CBC's On The Go.
"The Royal St. John's Regatta focus has not always been on equality because it has been on tradition and preserving that, but I think times are changing and you'll see more participation in the sport if there are more options available to people — both men and women."
It's something the Regatta committee is working on, said president Chris Neary.
"The tradition is that obviously females row the half course, males row full, but it's something that I think we all recognize we should be able to offer both male and female a half and full course," Neary said.
"In terms of what the Regatta committee's perspective is, it's, let's see what kind of interest we have, let's see how we work through the logistics of it, and just go from there — and hopefully it's something that we can offer everyone."
Neary said there will be a fall regatta later this year, and that's when the committee will start exploring opening up courses to all rowers.
'You need a year's notice'
But Hancock said that's not quite enough notice for a team to prepare for a different course, to be able to row it well.
"It's not gonna be something that like, if there's a fall regatta and it's for fun and you can do whatever course distance you want, it's not enough time," she said.
"You need a year's notice to know that, on Regatta Day, you're gonna be allowed to do that distance, so you can train for it properly."
Hancock added that, in other places, there are mixed teams as well as men's or women's teams. But that's likely a long way down the road, she said.
Neary said the committee will keep that in mind when it reaches out to the rowers to get a feel for the level of interest, but added it's not as simple as just opening up all courses to all rowers.
If, for example, there is a huge spike in the number of teams who want to row the full course, that means the committee has to figure out times on the lake to ensure everyone gets a fair shot.
"The last thing we want to do is tell a team that's training all year they can't run on Regatta Day because there's not enough time, so I mean there's a bunch of logistics that have to be worked out — it's not just as simple as saying just open the registration," he said.
"There's things that we have to work out — it's certainly something we're looking forward to and gearing toward — it just takes some thought and process."
With files from Malone Mullin