What is British Rowing doing to become more inclusive?

This week has sparked a huge conversation about what more we can all be doing to make our brilliant sport more accessible, inclusive and open to all


Screengrab from Monday's video

We’ve had a fantastic response to the video we shared on Monday, 1 June, with lots of important conversations taking place in the comments sections. It’s been powerful to see rowing clubs and members around the country using this time to reiterate their commitment to opposing racism and talking about what everyone can do to educate themselves.


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As a national governing body and an elite sports team representing Great Britain, we felt it was hugely important for us to show our firm commitment to anti-racism but also to encourage each other to learn and improve every day.

In the article below we have listed some of the things British Rowing is doing to make ourselves a more inclusive organisation and sport. We are proud that we are an organisation, team and membership with a near 50/50 gender balance, but we recognise that we still have some way to go to achieve inclusivity across the board. Our organisation and membership currently has significant under-representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, people with disabilities, as well as lower income groups. Fewer than 5% of British Rowing members are BAME and 10% of British Rowing members have some form of a disability, compared to one in five people in the UK.

The important message of this week is that we can all be doing more every day, so we hope this sparks more conversation about what more we can all be doing to make our brilliant sport more accessible, inclusive and open to all. We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. We believe with the energy and passion of our members, clubs and community we can all do more.

1. British Rowing strategy

One of our key values as an organisation is being Open to All. We’re revising our organisational strategy at the moment and one of our priorities will be actively promoting inclusion and diversity.

We are working with Sport England and Inclusive Employers to look at how we drive inclusive practices across our activities as an organisation. As part of this, we are currently running a series of workshops with the aim of developing an action plan for driving inclusive practices and behaviours across the work of British Rowing. This includes understanding and addressing structural and cultural barriers to inclusion within the sport.

British Rowing CEO Andy Parkinson said “We want rowing to be inclusive and representative of the diverse society of the UK, where anyone has the opportunity to take part in the sport we all love. We recognise that it’s not enough just to say we’re ‘open to all’ – if we’re not reflective of society we have to ask ourselves why that is and what more each of us can do to actively encourage people to come and join in.”

2. Love Rowing

We launched our new charitable foundation Love Rowing in November 2019 with the mission of creating accessible and inclusive rowing programmes for communities that are underrepresented in the sport. These include young people in education, people with disabilities, BAME communities and disadvantaged communities.

Love Rowing provides grants, guidance and support to rowing clubs and community organisations through three programmes: Schools, Adaptive and Community.

Foundation Director Helen Rowbotham said: “Love Rowing was established to create new opportunities for underrepresented communities to experience the unique benefits and transformative impact of rowing. Our initial programmes are now underway and we welcome partners and supporters to help us in our mission.”

3. Talent

A big area of work for British Rowing is ensuring that the GB Rowing Team and pathways are accessible and inclusive. We are proud to have equal numbers of male and female athletes in the GB Rowing Team and a fantastic para-rowing squad who are leading the way for adaptive rowing globally. We recognise that we still have a way to go, though; British Rowing’s Performance Vision is to produce medal winning crews at the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games who are a true representation of British society.

We have received support from Sport England and SportsAid’s Backing the Best programme to actively reach out to new and diverse talent for our Paralympic programme and are now doing the same with our World Class Start Olympic programme.  We have commissioned research programmes with London Youth Rowing and into rowing activity at state schools to help us stay informed and educated.

Deputy Director of Performance Pathways and Paralympic Programme Louise Kingsley said: “We are working hard to understand the barriers faced by athletes, clubs and the coaching workforce. The insight we gain will inform our performance strategy for Paris 2024 and beyond and help us in our work to increase the diversity of the talent pool for our Olympic and Paralympic Programmes.

“Additionally, the new FISA Coastal rowing events enable us to have wider geographical reach and engage with new communities as well as identifying new athletes, clubs and workforce to support the development of the GB Beach Sprints coastal programme.”


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4. Our clubs

In 2018, we published the Inclusive Club Guide, which was designed to help all rowing clubs become more inclusive. Developed in partnership with Sporting Equals and in consultation with the UK’s rowing community, the aim of the Guide is to highlight the benefits of being more inclusive and provide practical advice on creating an inclusive club.

The Guide is supported by the English Federation of Disability Sport, Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation, Sport Allies, Sport England, Sport and Recreation Alliance, Women in Sport, Women’s Sport Trust and UK Sport.

There are lots of brilliant rowing clubs doing trailblazing work on inclusion – Warrington Rowing Club, London Otters, London Youth Rowing and Fulham Reach Boat Club to name just a few.

CEO Andy Parkinson said: “Clubs are the backbone of our sport and are full of fantastic, innovative people. We love hearing about the great work going on across the UK to increase diversity and inclusivity and hope each example inspires even more rowers and clubs to think what they could do in their local communities.”

5. Indoor rowing

Indoor rowing is extremely accessible, with a rowing machine in almost every gym around the UK. British Rowing’s investment in indoor rowing includes new health and fitness-focussed classes and training programmes, free online content including challenges and competitions, as well as a new Go Row Indoor Schools platform which provides free resources for teachers to deliver indoor rowing in secondary schools.

Director of Rowing Community and Strategy Helen Rowbotham said: “Whether you are looking for fun, fitness or competition, indoor rowing has something for everyone and we have been working hard throughout lockdown to keep bringing new opportunities for people to be active at home. This includes workouts as well as weekly challenges and events like the British Rowing Virtual Championships coming up later this month.”

6. Coaching Scholarship Programme

The HRRCT Coaching Scholarship Programme is a joint project between Henley Royal Regatta Charitable Trust, Sport England, British Rowing and community clubs which has been running since 2002.

It funds the provision of coaches who work part-time alongside their studies at partner clubs to provide opportunities for young people who would not typically access the sport to experience and enjoy rowing.

With a focus on disadvantaged youngsters from low-income families, BAME groups or young people with disabilities, the activities of the programme impact on key areas of students’ lives, such as educational attainment, and developing life skills such as team building, resilience and focus.

Do you know of any great work going on in your community? Do you have any thoughts on how we can make rowing more inclusive? Let us know @britishrowing or at info@britishrowing.org.

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