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Membership’s for life, not just for Christmas. But for Christmas is a start.

A busy schedule has stopped me from following up on my first rowing blog for ages, but two things in the last 24 hours have made me realise that it’s about time I did, so here I am.

The first was an e-mail I received from someone who had questioned why he needed to be a member of a club as well as British Rowing in order to compete, and had received an answer from someone who said that club membership counted for something, but joining British Rowing was a waste of time and money. The second was a tweet that I had from Jordan Lake Crew in North Carolina, telling me the news that as a result of my last post, they were going to buy their founder, a Team GB alum, a British Rowing membership for Christmas.

So I’m back to expand on one of the topics I touched on in that post – namely, why should anyone bother to be a member of British Rowing.

To state the obvious, this is therefore not a post about racing membership. Across sport there are people who think of their National Governing Body as being a tax on enjoyment, and a regulatory burden – forever handing out rules and tweaking stuff that doesn’t seem to need to be changed – but even if they resent the cost, they pay the fees because they want to compete. They might need persuading about the value of their card, but they do actually have one in the first place.

In the other categories of membership – row, coach, and support – people see wiggle-room, and sometimes take it. Their thinking is on the lines of, “hmmm… I don’t think I need their insurance, so I can get away with not having to sign up. Perhaps I used to race once, but not any more. Now I just want some fun. So the NGB is not for me.” They aren’t card-carrying members, and don’t see why they should be.

But whichever of the four membership categories you are in, the same question arises – and it is that question I’d like to address.  You all know it, because you’ve all asked it: “What has British Rowing ever done for me?”.

The answer, if you’re a single sculler on a piece of water unused by anyone else (for any activity), who doesn’t talk to anyone else about anything you’ve done on the water, is nothing whatsoever. If you’re that person, then keep your £31 safe in your wallet, or spent it wisely over the next year. Maybe buy yourself a cup of coffee every month.

But what if you do more than that sculler? What if you row socially but don’t race, and you don’t need insurance because you’ve got it from somewhere else?  And what if you used to row back in the day, but long ago gave up? Why shouldn’t you be allowed your monthly cup of coffee, too?

Let’s start with the first group – those who row, but don’t need a licence to race, and for whatever reason don’t need the insurance that comes with membership. These are people who have no interest in competing, but just want to go out for a paddle – for a host of different reasons. If you’re in that category, you can also save your £31. But you take more of a risk.

You do so in the hope that nothing ever goes wrong. That there’s no dispute in your club that requires you to call in any external help. That there’s no canoeist who swears at you; no unseen swimmer who threatens you with legal action (more a distress than a financial issue, and no insurance covers that); no argument between you and the parents of any of your club’s juniors about something that seems trivial at the outset but then escalates suddenly and needs a pair of fresh eyes. No advice on safeguarding (which for all the right reasons is an ever-more-complex minefield); no help with planning issues which might allow your club to improve its facilities; no support in fights against the sudden introduction of parking fees outside your clubhouse, or worse, eviction from your boathouse. No support or advice when governance issues arise and a dispute leads to factions threatening everyone’s fun and perhaps even your club’s existence.  No help improving safety or opportunity to learn from potentially life-threatening incidents that happen elsewhere on our waterways. In short, you do so in the hope that all of these issues continue to be things that just happen to other people (as they all have in recent months), and never to you.

Like insurance, the £31 a year you might pay for help in any of that sort of situation is £31 wasted while the sun continues to shine – except that, also like insurance, the fee remains low for everyone because it is not used by everyone who takes it out.  Still, you might not be into such a socialist notion. Rowing family, shmamily.  If that’s your view, you should hold on to your cash.

And what about those who today don’t even row? What does British Rowing possibly do for them?

I would argue that it safeguards their sport for the future.  And in doing so, it safeguards something that is far more personal to them: their past.

If there is one thing that we surely all have in common, it’s talking about the races, the outings, the experiences, the camaraderie, the coaches, the freezing mornings, the moments. Hell, half our friendships are with people who shared the experience, so we all do it: stand at a bar and tell (repeat?) a yarn about the two feet that we won by, the selections we missed, the seat races we won or lost, the glories we enjoyed and the agonies we suffered. All of which remain as relevant and as bright today as they were 30, 40, 50 – sixty years ago, because today the sport of rowing remains the same sport that it was then.

And? How long can that continue? In a world where the IOC can put international rowing on notice as it did in September at the World Championships (of which, as previously promised, more another time). In a world where school coaches are flagging how hard it is to attract youngsters to the sport. In a world where there’s increasing competition to hold on not just to aspiring athletes who have a choice between pursuing glory on the water or riches elsewhere, but also former participants who are increasingly tempted into  different masters pursuits. In that world, a sport that isn’t moving forward, developing, attracting people and expanding becomes a sport like lacrosse, or Fives, or Racquets, or Real Tennis – “posh” sports that most people have never heard of and would never consider taking up.  Is that where we want rowing to be, thirty years hence?

I doubt there’s a person among us who wants their children or grandchildren to be looking at them quizzically about the sport, a generation from now, like it was something that mattered back in the day. Oh yes, they’ll say – that sport that was in the Olympics til 2028 but then fell out; that lost its government funding as a result; that withered to a few public schools as it lost its relevance and failed to attract young people. Was it fun, Grandad?

Is that so unlikely? I honestly don’t think it is. At least, not without a centralised body fighting the fight, making the case, setting the structure, and facilitating development. Do you want to be the last generation to stand in your club blazer at Henley and re-live your days in a boat? Oh. OK. I guess you might be right. I guess twelve cups of coffee in a year is a lot more satisfying…

I can talk about programmes and work streams another time. I can tell you what we’re working on with regard to coastal rowing, as the likelihood of it being included in the Olympic programme grows. I can tell you more about ideas we are trying to scope out and get to work, such as ‘passporting’ of BR membership to allow you to use facilities in other jurisdictions; about how we are trying to demonstrate to big-ticket sponsors that rowing is a vehicle for them to make a difference across the whole country in the three biggest problems that it faces; and about what ‘money can’t buy’ stuff we are trying to add to the package of ‘members benefits’. But to be honest, all that stuff is fluff when put against the big reason why £31 a year to become a supporter of British Rowing is a price worth paying for everyone who looks at rowing and says “that is my sport” or “that is my son or daughter’s sport”: namely, that it secures the sport’s finances, and in the process safeguards the future. Which means we can carry on arguing about everything else! 😉

So if you think of rowing as your sport but you aren’t a member of British Rowing, please do consider how important it is to the sport that you should join. And if you are a member already, then here’s a challenge: it’s 21 days til Christmas, and Jordan Lake in North Carolina have bought the first ‘support’ membership of BR for someone close to them who they know loves the sport here and wants it to thrive. How many more of those can we do to kick off a programme of membership that will secure the sport?

One thing’s for sure: it’s got to be a better present than a pair of socks…

Posted in British Rowing, My articles, Rowing, Sport.

4 Responses

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  1. bigeight87 says

    A great idea for a Christmas present and I thought I would follow your suggestion BUT there is no supporter membership that I can see just really confusing mass of information. Support doesn’t seem to fit the bill and so much talk of insurance. Guess I will have to look elsewhere for this year. Did try ringing the membership office for advice but no one answers the phone and the office is closed after 4. Sadly thats £31 less in income and one slightly bemused but keen to buy into your vision ex rower.

  2. says

    Delighted that you like the idea! Sorry you had trouble with it. Not sure what has happened, or why you couldn’t get through on the phone – the team is always there til 5, and in fact over the ClubHub launch were in the office so late very day that I was getting responses from them at 10 at night – but I have asked someone to get in touch to see if we can resolve that.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Anyone interested in a rowing passport? – A view from opposite Harrods linked to this post on May 8, 2019

    […] their sport really and truly understood what British Rowing does – and why, and how – a vast number of them would want to be (or become) members (as opposed to dropping membership like a hot potato the moment they don’t need a race […]

  2. The vision thing – A view from opposite Harrods linked to this post on June 30, 2019

    […] licensing and safety and all the sharing of best practice and all the dispute resolution stuff I’ve written about before are tasks we have in common with the DVLA, my view is that we also differ from them fundamentally […]

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