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The Secret Umpire: The Boat Race 2022

The 2022 Gemini Boat Race shone a spotlight on the world of umpiring. The Secret Umpire reviews the Boat Race rules

Like many in the rowing world, I sit down in front of the television every year to watch The Boat Race. As a junior, I would watch with awe as the crews lined up under Putney Bridge, and would cheer and clap as they clashed and cut in front of one another, seemingly jostling for the fastest water despite the protestations of the umpire behind them.

Why are Oxford and Cambridge allowed to wash each other down and bring their blades together, when in any other race this behaviour would almost certainly lead to disqualification? The answer may be found in the fact that The Boat Race is a private match between two clubs with its own rules, and so is therefore not rowed under the British Rowing Rules of Racing.

The Boat Race rules do allow for a crew that is in clear water and ahead to move in front of its competitor, but it does this at its own peril. Should the crew behind gain ground and make contact, a serious issue could arise. However, much like the Rules of Racing, the Boat Race rules also contain a definition of a boat’s proper course, and that of a foul, thus (formally) clashing is forbidden.


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