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Anyone interested in a rowing passport?

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m on a bit of a mission about membership. I’ve touched on it in various blog posts, and later this month it will be the main subject of a board meeting.

You probably also know my theory that if people who think of rowing as being 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 licence or insurance).

But equally, I’m not naive enough to believe that the question “what’s in it for me?” can sufficiently be answered for everyone with “it safeguards your sport, and with it your memories”, and a lot of the thinking we are doing at the moment revolves around what tangible things would persuade lapsed racers and other non-member rowers that it is worth having a BR membership card. 15% off in Cotswold, nice though it may be for people who love a bargain and happen to be short of a woolly hat, doesn’t count.

Of lots of potential ideas, there’s one in particular I’d like to run past you, because it would require buy-in from clubs – and we can’t progress it til we have some concept of whether we’d be likely to get it. There is no obvious way of testing it or beginning to implement it without just starting to roll it out, and we can’t start to roll it out without knowing that at least some clubs would do it. This Catch-22 could be solved by taking up time and money conducting surveys from HQ, but I thought a cheaper and quicker alternative was just to ask people if they’d be interested on this blog. So, here we are.

Imagine you’re abroad, and you want to do some exercise. What are your options, other than to go for a run?

The answer is, not many. Given the chance, you’d probably get out on the water – perhaps pop down to a local rowing club and ask if there’s any chance you could take out a sculling boat. Maybe jump on an ergo, if not. But generally we don’t do that, because we know the likely answer. Too complicated; not sure about insurance; don’t know how to gauge your standard; no time to work through the difficulties; you’re not a member here… Sorry, mate – no. Oh well. A run it is, then.

It seems to me a shame. And it struck me recently how fantastic it would be if a BR membership card were passportable, such that showing it at a participating rowing club in another country would allow you to use their facilities. No need for lengthy explanations or complicated requests: just, “I’m a member of British Rowing. Here’s my card to prove it.” I know I’d love it. Would you?

I’ve been exploring this idea for a while now with my counterparts in international federations, and it is fair to say that a number of them like it. The President of Danish Rowing is particularly keen to kick it off straight away, and has spoken to his colleagues in the other Scandinavian countries. They are all getting together at a meeting in early July and they want to put it to that meeting that we pilot it.

If we did, Scandinavian rowers who find themselves in the UK could rock up to a club, identify themselves as members of their domestic set up, and use the British club’s facilities if they were free; and vice-versa. The hope is that (a) it works, and other Federations join, starting in Europe but then moving further afield; and (b) that eventually it leads to the sort of tours more usually seen in cricket and rugby, where British clubs travel with a view to borrowing equipment and having some fun against local set-ups.  Enabling clubs to travel without having to take a trailer of boats would potentially help to foster a wider sense of community which I would imagine would be welcomed by all. And I bet would be a lot of fun.

The obvious issue is that this is not BR’s gift to give: they aren’t our clubs to open up.  What we can do is facilitate it happening (facilitation being, by the by, among the first things – in my opinion, anyway – in any list of reasons why we exist). But we need clubs to say that they would be up for that kind of reciprocal arrangement: that they would welcome, for example, a Swede who arrived and said, “I’m over from Stockholm… any chance I can jump in a boat?”

So here is the ask… If your club would be interested in participating, please drop me a line.  I will collate a list of clubs that are interested, and we can pilot it through them.   The Scandis will do the same, and a list of places that are happy to open their doors in this manner will be made public. We will see what happens, and refine accordingly. A logical extension of an expanded programme would be that we more easily match people and clubs to reciprocal standards (maybe even using PRI, although let’s not get into that…), and who knows – maybe even twinning clubs or creating groupings in due course.  I know of a couple of other European Federations outside Scandinavia which would be interested in getting involved, and I am sure that if we got it going and it worked, more – both in Europe and further afield – would follow suit. Reciprocal membership of participating clubs, organised centrally.

If it works, it may even be that we can create something similar across regions of the UK. No threats here for those who think the idea is bonkers, and no compunction to opt in; but an “ergo finder” mechanism that allows people to train when they aren’t at home might be welcomed by many (other than just me!), and on a similar note we would like to explore whether there is something we might even do about ergo use in gym chains for members who are outside their home town. No promises on either point, to be clear. It would just be good to explore what is possible.

So that’s the idea I’d love to hear your thoughts about. If everyone thinks it’s daft, no problem: we can bat on with other ideas we are working on. But if you’d like to be part of it, please comment below, or mail me (at mark dot davies at british rowing dot org) so that I can go back to the Scandis and see what we can kick off.

And while I’m here, do you know where Denmark’s second biggest rowing club is?

It’s in Greece. Honest.

I bet you didn’t know that.

Posted in British Rowing, Rowing.


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