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Discrimination: It comes in all guises. It is deeply unpleasant, corrosive and, unfortunately, far too prevalent through all walks of society, going way back through history. That these issues, borne of inequality and the barriers to equality, have come to the fore and are being discussed widely in the public sphere and specifically in rowing as a sport, provides welcome debate and challenge to the status quo. Yet there is more to discrimination than even what US Third Grade teacher Jane Elliot's taught in her seminal lesson following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

If you were to just watch this 7-minute video (above), you might be think we are just talking about skin colour or racial discrimination - we are not...

For Weybridge Rowing Club as a community sports club, being forever and more representative of our community is part of our raison d’etre(4). We are continually seeking and exploring ways to be the place where people want to be, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, but not so big that they feel lost or get left out. We are proud of our Schools Rowing programme - introducing rowing to students who would never have considered this as a sport for them - and would welcome more schools to get involved, in particular state schools.

Whilst a good 77% of our juniors are from state schools and 45% are female. Among our seniors, 39% are female and just over 50% are over the age of 27 - the age from when a rower is considered a Masters athlete(5). As a club as a whole we could count on the fingers of one hand the number of ‘non-white’ members, or members with disabilities. Looking at the makeup of the boroughs of Elmbridge, Runnymede and Spelthorne(6) local to us, we might fairly say we are representative of our local community. Yet, we recognise we could do better and how, insofar as wanting to share with more our amazing sport(7). We know there are plenty of people who might never consider rowing as a sport for them, but perhaps would find in rowing something that brings them confidence, connection and respite from life’s challenges. Whether grassroots or top-flight, we never know where someone’s life journey might take them, but we will never know if the door is closed or seems to be closed(8).

Without doubt our current location brings its own constraints that limit us in being able to fling wide open our bay doors to as many as we wish(9). Nor do we expect we can single-handedly do away with the perception (and still in some cases the reality) that rowing is exclusive or not representative of its community, or that it is elitist, or all white or mostly male - but none of these are reasons to stay the same or not take action to improve.

So what are we doing? We have recently bought a small number of new, stable SUP Rowers(10) that we are already showing can decrease the time to competence in rowing, thus we can open taster sessions to a wider number of adult and youth groups and schools. We have a number of other ideas to reach out to more in our community and make all feel rowing is indeed open to all.

We will build on some of the great work already in motion at the Club, namely:

  • Expanding our current Schools Rowing programme(11) to offer rowing to more state schools without a rowing programme.

  • Bettering our Learn To Row courses to better meet the needs of children and adults with Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) – here, again, our SUP Rowers(10) prove invaluable, as do our coaches!

  • Continuing the promotion of the many opportunities and value in taking part in the Weybridge Community Regatta(12). 

Plus, form an informal socially distanced ‘working group’ to, for instance:

  • Work through the idea for a ‘rowing scholarship’ to any child already eligible for Free School Meals at a local state school(13), and 

  • Shape our approach to reach out to local youth groups, special schools, and refugee families in the local area, in particular, offering an introduction to and safe learning environment for rowing; requisite to this would be swimming instruction – for instance, for some refugees who may have traumatic experiences of open water(10,14).


If you are interested in finding out more or getting involved in the development of a new ‘Community Matters’ programme, please do get in touch:

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