Boat race sponsors Newton turn tide for women rowers Laura Williamson column

Boat race sponsors turn tide for women rowers at long last with equal funding and prestige

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As the BBC and now BT Sport seem to have noted, you get a lot more action and access for your money when it comes to buying the television, sponsorship and commercial rights for women’s disciplines.

The Boat Race, an event that exudes privilege, pomp and circumstance like no other, might seem an unlikely cause to champion a step forward for sportswomen, but it is the tradition and rigmarole that makes this a particularly important development.

When Katherine Grainger returned from the Sydney Olympics in 2000 after winning Great Britain’s first medal in women’s rowing, a silver in the quad, she said someone came up to her and said: ‘We didn’t even know women rowed.’

You can understand why few — men or women — would want to, given the demands of a sport that has little time for finesse or creativity and commands absolute teamwork to succeed at the highest level.

Anna Watkins (left), with whom Grainger won gold so memorably in London in the double sculls, has said a family member tried to put her off rowing in case ‘she got big arms’. It’s all in the legs, of course, but sweeping generalisations have no time for small technicalities like that.

Watkins ploughed on regardless and, 12 years after Grainger came back from Australia with that silver medal, Britain’s women won their first Olympic gold medals since the sport was added to the programme in 1976 — three of them, in fact.

If the wheels of Oxford and Cambridge can creak slowly into action with regard to a sport as brutal and punishing as rowing, it feels like anything could happen.

WHAT THEY SAID

British athlete Lisa Dobriskey said she did not believe she was ‘competing on a level playing field’ in the Olympic 1500metres final in London and was roundly accused of sour grapes.

The gold medal-winner, Turkey’s Cakir Alptekin, is now facing a lifetime ban after ‘big abnormalities’ were found in her biological passport. Some might just owe Dobriskey an apology.

Accused: Lisa Dobriskey's opponent is facing a lifetime ban for 'big abnormalities' in her biological passport

Accused: Lisa Dobriskey's opponent is facing a lifetime ban for 'big abnormalities' in her biological passport

WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING THIS WEEK

Watched Wrexham win the FA Trophy with a 4-1 penalty shootout win over Grimsby.

On Saturday, Grimsby fans congregated in Trafalgar Square for a photo. ‘Which team is this’ said a steward. ‘So are they in the Champions League, then’ I wish.

Glory: Ecstatic Wrexham player-manager Andy Morrell celebrates with the FA Trophy

Glory: Ecstatic Wrexham player-manager Andy Morrell celebrates with the FA Trophy

Got exasperated at the persistent use of the phrase ‘pre-planned’ to describe Rio Ferdinand’s fitness programme. It is either planned or it is not, just like the defender’s ill-advised little jaunt to Doha.

Attended my first Women in Football meeting at Stamford Bridge on Friday after being, I admit, very dubious about the whole idea. I just want to be ‘in football’ rather than a ‘WiF’. I can’t tell you anything else owing to Chatham House rules, but it was certainly very, very interesting.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

Arsenal Ladies beat ASD Torres 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at Boreham Wood.

Glad to see there’s still one English team fighting for the cause in Europe — and the women’s final is at Stamford Bridge this year, too. The second leg takes place in Sardinia on Wednesday.