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  Issue 99 - June 1997


Leander votes for women

Christopher Dodd reports on the historic motion which brings the Pink Palace into the 21st century and qualifies the Henley club for a huge Lottery grant.

Members of Leander voted to admit women as members at an extraordinary general meeting on Sunday April 27.

The rules were amended to include the clause 'The masculine shall include the feminine and vice-versa', thus ending 179 years of the bar on lady members. The first nomination for a female member was posted for Beryl Crockford, who as Beryl Mitchell won the world lightweight double sculls title in 1985. Several other nominations had arrived in the secretaries office shortly after the meeting ended.

The members voted to extend the powers of the captain over training facilities as well as boats, and to restrict associate non-voting membership to 25 per cent of the total membership. But they rejected the proposal to introduce postal balloting.

By admitting women as members, Leander complies with the Sports Council's requirement to modernise the club's constitution to qualify for the 1.5 million grant from the Sports Lottery Fund towards the club's 2.3 million development scheme. But the club's acceptance is not yet unequivocal. A statement after the meeting said: 'Leander will continue to pursue its gold medal winning policy of focusing its competitive efforts on men's heavyweight rowing. This is in line with its designation by the Amateur Rowing Association as a high performance centre. Leander will also pursue its Lottery application providing it can be assumed that this will in no way compromise its rowing policy.'

The mood of the meeting clearly favoured women as members but was less keen on them making demands on the rowing facilities. Matthew Pinsent, the Olympic gold medalist, spoke for the locker room when he warned against dissolving the facilities necessary to sustain half of Britain's Olympic rowing team between men and women. 'All of the current members favour having women here. But the soul of Leander is men's heavyweight rowing. Everything that the club provides for 20 blokes rowing seven days a week, three times a day, would have to be provided for women. I was happy to stand with my hand on my heart behind the cheque when the offer was announced. But we are in danger of selling our soul for 1.5 million.'

The development would replace the leaky old gym, provide a sports medicine centre, introduce women's changing and shower facilities, and upgrade the facilities for men. Pinsent's worries were echoed by Ron Needs, coach of many women's crews including Cambridge University Women's BC. He questioned the wisdom of elite men's and women's squads being at the same centre. 'Leander shouldn't ask the captain to promote a women's squad unless he's satisfied that a women's squad would not interfere with the men.'

Ivor Lloyd, captain for more than 10 years, confirmed that accepting the money would mean providing equal facilities for women as for men. He said he was in favour of women members. 'If we accept Lottery money I will have to run a women's squad. My management skills would be tested.' David Chick, a member of the Amateur Rowing Association's Council, reminded members that designation as a high performance centre was in the hands of the governing body, not the club. Marlow and Thames rowing clubs are designated as high performance centres for women by the ARA just as Leander is a centre for heavyweight men.

John Beveridge, Leander's secretary, told Regatta that the Sports Council had expressed itself pleased with the outcome. The club is now taking steps to reinforce verbal assurances that support for its men's squad will not be diluted. The next step is to raise the rest of the funds necessary to implement the substantial improvements outlined in February's Regatta which is also a condition of the Lottery grant.

The Brilliants debate

© Copyright Christopher Dodd, 1997.

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