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Women's University Boat Race - Henley's Last Hurrah!

31/03/2014 12:15 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 10:59 BST

It must have been the mid-80s, I would have been about 10 years old. I remember standing in the 'Abbey Friar' Fish and Chip Shop (see what they did there?!) with my Dad in a long queue...ordinarily this would have been a boring weekend afternoon, but on this particular day a crackly old TV, high up on the wall in the corner of the shop, had me and everyone else mesmerised. The national event that had the whole shop frozen in anticipation was the Boat Race! This was a strange and unexpected scene for a suburban Sheffield chippy, but the strength and commitment of the rowers, coupled with the seeming glamour and excitement of the occasion, had grabbed the attention of this little corner of Sheffield; frying was suspended and we were all hooked.

That day heralded a love of rowing for me. Boat Race day has become a day to savour and I always, without fail and with a loyalty I cannot explain, support Oxford. A graduate of Birmingham University and with a family connection to Cambridge, I have no idea why it's the dark blues that I cheer on enthusiastically every year, but I do, and it will never change.

On that afternoon in the 80s, though, and still this year in 2014, one thing was missing...women! Why only a men's race?

I genuinely had no idea, until I joined the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) as CEO in November last year, that there was an equivalent women's race, yet there has been periodically since its debut in 1927 and every year since 1964.

Except that, really, it isn't an equivalent race: it's on a different course, the shorter Henley course rather than the longer Putney route raced by the men. There is no TV coverage, and it's unlikely to receive the same level of recognition as the men's (although I hope I am proven wrong on this score).

Thankfully though, all of this difference is for the final time: where the women's University Boat Race is concerned, 2014 was Henley's last hurrah.

From next year, thanks to the financial backing and forward-thinking of Newton Investment Management and the support of the BBC, the women's race moves to the full length course on the Tideway, on the same day as the men's race, to be covered on TV...and frankly not before time!

As you will know if you follow this blog, this month WSFF launched our Say Yes to Success campaign, calling for more commercial investment into women's sport and increased media coverage so that we can all enjoy the women's successes, as we do the men's. The nation's women are highly successful when it comes to rowing. You only have to recall London 2012; Kath Grainger reaching the pinnacle at last, and so many other extraordinary performances. Our elite female rowers are world class, they deserve parity with their male counterparts, and in the Boat Race they will finally receive it from 2015. Newton and the BBC have set a clear example of what can be achieved for women's sport when commercial investors, sports and the media create a strong partnership - now we want to see others follow where they are leading.

So just one question remains for me: next year, should I balance things out and support Cambridge's women? Perhaps, after another comprehensive Oxford victory this year, I might just keep my loyalties intact.