Sanity rescued from the jaws of madness

Not the Georgians and the Russians, though indications are they they too have pulled back from utter stupidity. No, this is far more important: rowing, and in particular the bumps. Background: those paying close attention on day 4 will have noticed the problem with Robs 1. It seems that the 10 minute delay on the start was a bit more than I’d realised: it consisted of the umpires telling Robs they had an illegal crew and couldn’t row, and Robs refusing to listen (they even had the man they’d bumped out standing on the bank, so they didn’t even have the excuse of no sub available). And the arguments became heated.

You can read some background (letters to the Cambridge Evening News) here.

So it all escalated to an EGM of the CRA tonight, with the AGENDA: To discuss the behaviour of Rob Roy Boat Club during Bumps week 2008 and to consider the proposal that they be suspended from the CRA for a minimum of one year and one day from 8.40pm on Friday 25th July with any additional sanctions, penalties and fines that the Bumps Committee, after further reflection, may decide to impose. Pedants and fans of adminitrivia will immeadiately notice that this proposal doesn’t have a named proposer; and indeed during the meeting itself it became remarkably unclear who was proposing it. John Jenner managed to say something like “people assume that this motion is proposed by the bumps committee; it isn’t; it is from one or two members of the bumps committee”.

To give you the substance (see, I’m no storyteller), we ended up voting that:

1 Robs I to be dropped four places, to 6.
2 Robs to be fined £800
3 Robs not to be suspended.

1, 3 were overwhelming. 2 was nearly replaced by £300, and would have been, if Robs members hadn’t been dumb enough to vote against it.

Whats astonishing is that this is (IMHO) the correct result, or close enough as makes no difference. Suspending the whole club from the bumps would have been utterly unfair, as speaker after speaker at the meeting said (even those from tabs :-). Even JJ admitted that suspending Robs from the CRA as a whole (though not form the bumps) was beyond the meetings powers. Another argument (not made, but important anyway) is that suspending Robs for a year would have caused utter chaos in working out where they should come back in). Fining them is not very important; hopefully their Mens I will have to pay it between themselves (thereby annoying them) but at a second best the whole club will pay (thereby pissing off the whle club with their Mens I). Dropping them down 4 places means that they have no hope of head next year, and since this entire incident was caused by Robs being over-eager for the headship, thats a good idea.

I used to be our trade union secretary, so have some familiarity with the correct procedure for handling motions and amendments. Sadly the chair of the meeting had no such familiarity. What saved him was that he had the respect of most of those present, and a degree of personal dignity, and that the correct course of action was reasonnably obvious. Nonetheless he came close to stuffing it up, and was only saved by Baldy (sorry, I don’t know your name, but you did a great job, and I’ll be happy to buy you several pints if we ever meeet up) essentially taking over at the vital point.

Example: the motion was to fine Robs £800. Robs objected, and counter-proposed, as an amendment, £300. The correct procedure (if I haven’t fogotten all I knew) is to vote on whether the amendment should replace the motion, and if so then vote on either it, or the original motion. This rapidly gets complicated, especially if people don’t know the procedure. Certainly it wasn’t well explained, and wasn’t helped by the chair saying “so we’re voting on £300… per boat”. Argh! Quite how he managed to say that I don’t know; fortunately the floor helped him out (£800, BTW, is £100 * 8 boats entered. £300 = £100 * 3 boats with blatant illegalities. though as folks from the floor pointed out, there were more illegalities than that…).

Getting to the correct result was interesting. Fortunately the bumps committee (and whether this was cunning or stupidity I don’t know) offered to replace their original motion with (I paraphrase) “1) Robs have been naughty; move them down 4 places and fine them £800; 2) Suspend them for a year”. As speaker after speaker pointed out (including your humble correspondent) the suspension was wrong (apart from anything else, it punishes the whole club for M1’s stupidity). By adding in option 1, we were pointed towards the obvious: throw the lawyers out of the window, and vote on 1) down 4; 2) fine; 3) suspension in order. And so (throwing the agenda to the winds) we did so.

Having got that out of the way, there are a few other issues, including the one that started it all: what did Robs do wrong? Taking one step back from that, what they did wrong, and what the meeting focussed on, was disobeying the umpires instructions. That kept things fairly simple. Robs view was that their rower (CC) was technically legal. One of their chaps (Simon?) put forward the rather implausible view that altough they got a clear email telling them that their crew was illegal on thursday night, because that email picked on the wrong reason (CC being illegal, which is arguable, rather than they making an un-announced substitution for non-emergency reasons, which clearly was, even they admit that) their was some reasonable doubt about whether they were illegal or not, and therefore (without making any formal attempt whatsoever to clarify the situation), they were entitled to row down to the start on friday with the same crew, and try to settle it by arguing with the umpires on the start line. This is utter twaddle (their arguing for 10 mins wasted valuable time. Quite possibly, had they not done that, there would have been time to re-row M1 when the unfortunate 9’s-city bump halted everyone below them).

JJ said that, in hindsight, they should have physically prevented Robs from rowing on the friday.

All of this, in case you hadn’t realised by now, is because there are very good rowers out there with tenuous connections to Cambridge, and the temptation (especially in the upper divisions, where people take this (too) seriously) is to import ringers. Thats bad sportsmanship, so there has been pressure in recent years to tighten the rules and make this a local race for Cambridge people (note, BTW, that university oarsfolk are explicitly excluded: they have their own bumps).

Bowing to the inevitable, I’ve created a new category of “rowing”, since there will be more rowing-related stuff in here. Did I mention I took the club scull out today? It was windy.

And while I’m here… for another view of boating life in Cambridge, there is

3 thoughts on “Sanity rescued from the jaws of madness”

  1. You seem to attract these things. Have you changed the Wikipedia entry for Cambridge Bumps??

    [:-) But the wiki bumps page in’t very exciting (should pages on exciting subjects be exciting themselves?). It barely even mentions the City bumps – could do with an update for that before going into the tedious details. I’ve done that a bit… -W]


  2. I was at the meeting, agree with what’s been written here, would also make the point that the final penalites agreed by the general meeting against the offending club could (and therefore should) have been made by the bumps committee at the time, avoiding the whole situation from developing.

    [Yes, I think you’re right there: the bumps committee could simply have done this themselves -W]

    Had the committee been prepared to enforce the existing rules more transparently (ie publishing penalites every day) and rigorously (ie not being browbeaten into reducing or waiving penalties) then the repeat offences and arguments on the bank would never have happened.

    [Also true. I wonder if they should also publish – perhaps via a blog or similar – all email correspondence sent and received. Then we wouldn’t have to wonder who said what to whom -W]


  3. A fair report on the meeting , however what is not said is that in the middle of the holiday season possibly over 125 people turned out on a Wednesday evening to ‘debate/argue’ the matter. (There were apparently 125 chairs available and all appeared to be taken whilst people were standing at the back).

    [Yes I should have mentionned that – it was a full hall and a well attended meeting -W]

    That represents the strength of the Cambridge rowing community, we might not produce an elite eight able to put fear into the competition, but we can certainly get rowers on the water.

    The challenge is to find a way of maintaining the interest (equivalent to 1% of the population), which means lots of clubs, and then finding a way of enabling the top rowers to get together in a way that doesn’t belittle the clubs.

    A final point – the speech by Robs President Tom Davies did a lot to ensure that the meeting didn’t descend into name calling and was remarkably mature given the passions that were obviously just under the surface.

    [Hmm, I think I partially agree with you. The tone was very good; the content was still somewhat partial (though not grossly so) in what he chose not to say; but then he is Robs president -W]

    It’s been pointed out to me by someone from outside Cambridge that we appear to have created a rowing equivalent of the support many people have for football clubs where even if they never go near them or watch them they feel passionate about the club they support and often equally passionate aganist their nearest rivals

    [That may be so, but I don’t think thats good. The insane passions people feel about football are not healthy, they are (literally) sick; and the watch-don’t-play mentality is also very poor: sport is to do. I would not like to see a similar mentality in rowing -W]


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