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S. Thomas’, Royal, Oxford and Cambridge

Comments / 899 Views / Wednesday, 11 April 2012 00:01

Many readers would have by now heard and read about the annual Oxford - Cambridge boat race over the weekend, where a spoiler sprang an underwater surprise and about an oar that broke. All this led to what I would term as a less than wholesome win awarded to Cambridge.

Almost three weeks ago, I wrote about the US, Iraq, Afghanistan and us and about the ‘Shock and Awe’ strategies of the US as coalition forces invaded Iraq on the 19 March 2003.

Shock and Oar

Last weekend, the British media referred to the boat race between Oxford and Cambridge as a ‘Shock and Oar’ event. This was because as they say, “that most quintessentially English of sporting contests, was ruined by the actions of a single protestor.”

Trenton Oldfield, said to be an anti-elitism campaigner, donned a wetsuit and swam across the Thames into the path of the Oxford and Cambridge crews as they battled it out at the halfway point of the four-mile course. Oldfield, 35, apparently of Australian origin, was charged with a public order offence on Saturday night, according to Scotland Yard.

Values and umpiring

Chief umpire John Garrett, alerted to the danger by Olympic champion Sir Matthew Pinsent who was acting as assistant umpire, had raised his red flag to stop the race. When it eventually restarted, Oxford suffered a broken oar, (which was of course because despite warnings, Oxford had steered too close to Cambridge and oars clashed) handing Cambridge what must have been the easiest of their 81 victories. The media referred to the race as “meaningless.”

To use a British word I wonder whether the win awarded to Cambridge was ‘proper.’ An interesting observation is that although the race was restarted, it was at a point further back than where the protest had occurred. Zoe de Toledo, the Oxford cox, the only female in the race, had felt this handed an unfair advantage to Cambridge.

When on the rerun, the boats came together and the oar of Hanno Wienhausen, a 29 year old German national, was broken in half, Toledo had appealed for a rerun but Chief Umpire Garrett said he saw no grounds for one given that the collision had been caused by Oxford.

Analysts say that while Cambridge will be happy to chalk up another victory in the 158th staging of the event, the result was rendered almost irrelevant when Alex Woods, the bow in the Oxford boat, collapsed unconscious as his team limped to the finishing line. He was put on a stretcher with an oxygen mask to help him breathe and taken to Charing Cross Hospital.

Woods had ‘pushed himself beyond his limits’ due to ‘desperation’ at only having six crew-mates after Wienhausen’s blade broke, when the two boats converged seconds after the race was restarted.

It is reported that celebrations were of course muted and there was no presentation ceremony. London Mayor Boris Johnson, there to award the Boat Race Trophy, was told his services were not required!

Beyond rules and emotions

Was this really a wholesome win for Cambridge given the distraction caused by that Aussie from ‘down under?’ I am not too sure. But if the key lesson we learn or expect our children to be taught in schools or universities is to feel wholesome about a win or a loss or a grade, then there may be something incomplete here.

I wondered whether there was a lesson from Sri Lanka, which we could share with Cambridge in particular, but of course Cambridge is Cambridge. As for Chief umpire John Garrett - but of course again, Olympic champion Sir Matthew Pinsent, who was acting as assistant umpire, was by his side - and given that London is to host the Olympics shortly, they should know best about rules, disruptions and risk management strategies and of course the fairness or otherwise of awards.

I reflected on how Oxford may have reconciled with the decision, given that they would have trained from the wee hours of each cold morning for many months (as many who row in any country do), apparently preparing since September, from 6.00 a.m. six days a week. Mayor Johnson, an Oxford University old boy, said: “It was bloody stupid; Oxford was definitely going to win. I think they did very well to avoid the fellow in the water, though. He’s lucky to be alive.”

Accepting the result would have been made tougher given the obvious emotions catalysed further by no less than Oxford university boat club president Karl Hudspith himself who had posted a damning Twitter message for Oldfield, saying “My team went through seven months of hell, this was the culmination of our careers and you took it from us.” As for the latter, I was taken aback since I wondered where the British restraint was!

I am not being totally sarcastic. I must confess a little bias when I do identify with Oxford. My niece studied there and it was only about two years ago that I visited her while visiting my son who was doing a very short course there. But it was easy, over a few days to develop affection for the place and its people, more particularly when my son fractured three toes while playing football, and had to be rushed to the John Radcliffe hospital and the University authorities co-coordinated so brilliantly with the hospital. Of course the rest of the trip and many weeks later after his return, he remained in crutches - compliments of the NHS.

Continued on page 12

Sharing a Thomian thought with the UK

As I reminisced over my brief encounter with Oxford and a dinner with a beautiful relative by a waterfront restaurant in Chiswick by the River Thames where the race was run, I thought of the hard work put in by teams in any sport.

My mind then went to my alma mater in South Asia – that ‘outstation’ school by the sea and the magnanimous manner in which the Warden of S. Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia, Professor Indra de Soya, together with the Principal of Royal College Upali Gunasekera, made a win-win for both schools.

Their messages reproduced here, will explain what transpired in that instance and the rationale adopted by Warden Indra de Soya. They also provide a lesson to all those in politics, business, the professions and civil society.  

I was reminded of my contribution to the newspapers in February last year when we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the S. Thomas’ College OBA. A brief extract of the thought I shared in the Daily FT, on 12 February 2011 (co-incidentally our pol-sambol lunch day) under what I captioned ‘Beyond the Quadrangle’ reads as follows:

“If we are in business, we must have a conscience.  That conscience, the yardstick by which we are judged, is not the value of the corporate bottom line and balance sheet alone, or the rupees and cents of our personal net worth achieved at any cost, and sometimes at the expense of many others. A Thomian is judged by much more than that.” So it is with the number of wins and the tally in any annual encounter-whether at cricket or rowing.

In my column of March 19, whilst yet being an old Thomian, I began with a reference to the less than wholesome win of S. Thomas’ at the 50 over cricket match. However many days later I was pleasantly surprised, when I learned that the schools eventually shared the trophy despite the win being awarded to S. Thomas’ at the time the event was concluded at the SSC grounds.

In doing what they did, S. Thomas’ was magnanimous and made us all proud to be Thomian. Thomian skipper Sachin Peiris and the team must be congratulated as well.

I wonder whether representatives of the OBA’s in the UK could kindly pass the messages of the two heads of the College’s for publication in their own newsletters, if they have not already done so, and perhaps they can also present the heads of Cambridge and Oxford with a complimentary copy of same!

London Olympics and risk management

As London prepares for the Olympics, I certainly wish them the very best in much the same manner as many throughout the world wish us when we organise an event, when we cope with political, economic or business problems, a tsunami or a flood or when we tame terror.

London will have to ensure that appropriate risk management strategies are indeed in place so that any person, those who have trained and worked hard as well as those who have travelled far to spectate, will not be robbed of the opportunity to win or to witness an uninterrupted event.  

This may of course mean that the unfettered rights and privileges of a simple man looking in shock and awe at the abundance of extravagance, has yet to have his right to swim away on the Thames or the Nile to be curtailed.

It is said that London will surely now fine-tune spectator access to open events at the Games, such as the marathons, the cycling road races and the Hyde Park triathlons and marathon swims.

A spokesman for LOCOG – the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games said, “A massive security presence, barriers at open events and stringent checks in and around all Olympic venues should minimise the potential for a high-profile gatecrasher like Saturday’s.” But he added: “There is no such thing as a 100 per cent guarantee.” We know there is no guarantee whether the Olympics are held in London, England in 2012 or in Baku, Azerbaijan – a bidder for the event in 2020.  I am currently overseas and I hope readers will bear with me if I were to restrict my column this week only to what some might believe is only but a simple thought. While I might yet be in the Caucasus during the auspicious time, without any kiribath, kavum, kokis or a lamp to light, my best wishes go out to all, for the best of health and happiness as they herald in yet another Sinhalese and Tamil New Year.  

Just as the Poya Day converged with Good Friday last week, I am also hopeful that this year will also herald in a nation which builds much more than roads, railways and bridges, ports and airports, but converges all this with parallel tangible initiatives which can well lead to greater social cohesion and interracial harmony, such that we rebuild a nation that thinks and feels and thus acts as one.


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