CEO Membership Column – November 2019

In the latest CEO update, November proved to be another busy month for British Rowing with plenty going on.


(c) Jo Sweeney Photography

We formally launched our new charitable foundation, Love Rowing, on 21 November at the incredible Cutty Sark in Greenwich and this was a brilliant illustration of why we do what we do. The love for rowing was evident from start to finish. The evening was warmly welcomed by our Chair, Mark Davies, with Sir Matthew Pinsent chairing a “Rowing’s Greatest Moments” Panel discussion which was a highlight of the evening. All of our speakers (with special mention to Sophie Harris, an up and coming para-rower) were on top form, entertaining and inspiring the audience, and reinforcing the importance of Love Rowing’s plans to drive accessibility and inclusion in the sport.

The silent and live auctions and pledges, combined with pre-event donations and corporate commitments to our programmes, brought total fundraising to over £50,000. Love Rowing is seen as hugely positive and a clear demonstration of our commitment to ‘growing the number of people in rowing’ and being ‘open to all’, key objectives and values in our 2015-2024 Strategic Plan.

However, the hard work has only just begun as now we begin the follow up with all the current, and potential new, donors we have connected with, get our pilot projects up and running, and further develop strong, collaborative relationships with all the partner organisations that will be key to the future success of Love Rowing.

In the same week as Love Rowing, we had World Rowing (FISA) in town for their annual Joint Commissions Meetings, where the International Federation gets together to share information, collaborate and agree strategies for the future. The recent World Rowing Coastal Championships and the World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals were certainly talking points with events like these providing us and the sport with a catalyst to explore what we could be, should be and are doing with respect to our coastal disciplines.

FISA has an active interest and enthusiasm for a Beach Sprint event to be included in future Olympic Games. For Beach Sprints to be a medal event in Paris 2024, two things need to happen. Firstly, the National Federations of rowing (British Rowing being one) need to vote through in October 2020 as yet unseen proposals for its inclusion. Secondly, the International Olympic Committee need to also vote through in December 2020 its inclusion. Neither of these are a forgone conclusion but there feels to be real momentum behind this initiative and it could be an exciting direction for the sport.

We are already in dialogue with staff and volunteer experts in this area about the implications of such a move, and it provides us with an opportunity to explore how we diversify our offer to current and future participants of the sport. So there is plenty of work to do over the coming year in advance of the formalities of voting.

Alongside all of this we held our November Board meeting (draft minutes to be published in due course). We started with an update from Brendan Purcell, Director of Performance, on the progress the Team are making towards Tokyo 2020. Brendan provided an assessment of last season and identified where the focus of the Performance staff is going to be over the coming months. It was a chance for me to reflect on how far we have moved with the transformation of our culture within the Team, with Brendan’s openness and desire to engage with the Board a great illustration of this progress.

A significant part of the meeting was focussed around a draft budget for the 2020/21 financial year, and the Board provided clarity around their thinking on both revenue projections and costs, which will then inform further discussions so that we are able to present a break-even budget early next calendar year for approval.

A key consideration in this discussion relates to our membership revenue and the Board had a robust debate around the outcomes of a piece of market segmentation work recently conducted. The segmentation work has identified a number of positive features around our existing membership programme (which is clearly helpful to receive) as well as identifying areas of improvements in terms of our overall engagement with the rowing community (which we are and shall be taking on, with more on this here in the future). We discussed how we balance our existing membership structure for active participants (RACE, ROW, COACH, SUPPORT), our new Friend of British Rowing category and our recently launched Love Rowing fund raising vehicle. The next step is to agree how these all align and what our next key steps are in how we improve our engagement. There was strong support around the Board for this, recognising the resources required, and this is a really exciting direction for us to be taking as a sport.

Other items of note in November was a productive meeting with Sport England (focussed on our mid-year review), the creation of a cross-organisational group to drive our domestic Tokyo 2020 activities (to ensure British Rowing delivers some key activity around the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games for our sport across the country), and a Panel Review session with UK Sport (specifically focused on last season’s outcomes of the Olympic programme). And last month I mentioned that Sport England were due to commence their own investment process for 2021-2025 and this has now started, with Sport England seeking to listen to key stakeholders over the coming months before agreeing the principles and criteria they will put in place for those seeking investment. I continue to be encouraged that Sport England is increasingly recognising the value of NGBs, the challenges and costs that NGBs have in this fast-moving environment, and that they are keen to find solutions to this in line with their overall strategy.

Looking ahead, this weekend we have the British Rowing Indoor Championships in London, with over 2,300 competitors registered. We also have a strategy session planned for all staff which will focus on our revised Vision with the intention of getting consensus on the key elements so as to feed into other work being done with the Sport Committee and Regional Chairs Forum. And then there is Christmas, which for some is a chance to breathe! All the best for the festive season and a Happy New Year once you get there.