‘This is war’: in the world of rowing with schoolboys

The schools also invest heavily in guidance staff. King’s has four rowing coaches, including one-time Wallaby Julian Huxley, rowing head coach and director, and Rob Black, a former National Rowing Champion. Three of them are in Henley.

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The best rowers are eligible for university athletic scholarships in the United States and Australia. Melbourne University is offering a scholarship worth $25,000 per year. Many GPS rowers have also gone on to race and coach Australian Olympic teams.

“Money calls, prestige calls in the GPS,” said the veteran. “More money, more expensive boats. It’s much more than a six-minute race.”

King’s was the favorite to compete in the March Head of the River regatta.

On the eve of the race, inclement weather forced organizers to move from the usual venue, on the Nepean River, to Iron Cove. King’s was in lane three. But during the race he made a right turn and near the finish he hit the buoy that marked the farthest end of lane eight.

Shore immediately protested, saying that the King’s helmsman had “pushed or grabbed” one of Shore’s oars, and that when King’s turned to the right, the crews in lanes four to eight were pushed to the shore. King’s said the oar accident was the result of a collision and all boats had plenty of water.

A jury considered the protest and decided to uphold King’s victory by a vote of five to four.

The race was the talk of the rowing community. “Everyone was impressed,” said a rowing veteran watching the race. “Especially the 12-year-olds in the first VIII, their entire school career [had built up to this]† It would have upset a lot of kids.”

The Head of the River Regatta in Sydney earlier this year, in which a controversial win by King’s School sparked calls from The Scots College and Shore School.

Shore and The Scots College were not satisfied, so the AAGPS ordered a judicial review.

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The judicial panel, which heard the appeal against St Ignatius on a Friday evening in April, consisted of former Supreme Court justice and royal commissioner Greg James QC and Noel Donaldson, who coached the “rower foursome” to two Olympic gold medals.

Scots argued that race rules were not followed, according to minutes of proceedings obtained by the Herald, and that boats that have not technically crossed the finish line are not allowed to take first place. The claim was rejected because it did not appeal on the day itself.

Shore, who came in second, also argued that King’s should have been disqualified or the results of the race thrown away. The panel found that there was a “collision of blades” and that the king’s boat had collided with the buoy marking the edge of the lane.

But the panel upheld the result, saying the helmsman had been reprimanded, but Shore “continued to row unimpeded” and James “see no basis for imposing further sanctions on the helmsman or crew,” the minutes said.

The furor left some in the sport to question whether the incident showed that schoolboy rowing, with its high stakes and the involvement of the highest judiciary, was no longer within the confines of the GPS code that “the spirit of the amateur – in its best sense – should remain the ideal.”

The headmaster of the King's School, Tony George.

The headmaster of the King’s School, Tony George.Credit:

A disillusioned GPS rowing insider says, “When does ‘we want to win’ become ‘we can’t afford to lose’?”

The Kings crew has won the first three heats in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, to which its rector flew business class controversially with his wife. The Scots College also has a team racing there, although it lost on Thursday. The director is not present.

The king’s headmaster made the comments, comparing the rowing race to a war at a school meeting, and the comments were uploaded to a rowing Facebook page in 2019. The Facebook post has since been deleted.

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