22 Mar 2024

Why should girls play second fiddle to boys at rowing’s Maadi Regatta?

10:17 am on 22 March 2024

The country's top rowing school says more effort needs to be made to establish gender equity at the national secondary schools championships.

Rangi Ruru Girls' School in Christchurch has proposed a string of changes, including a name change to the sport's most iconic event - the Maadi Regatta.

It is named after the famous trophy awarded to the winning senior boys eight crew at nationals. But the Maadi Cup is one of just 40 titles contested at the regatta each year and the overt focus on one race has long been questioned.

One coach at an elite girls' school told RNZ the name of the event "has never sat that comfortably with me".

Rangi Ruru officially raised the issue at last year's AGM of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Rowing Association (NZSSRA), held on the eve of the nationals.

"We believe that continuing to call the regatta the Maadi Cup reinforces the imbalance in status of the male and female events," the AGM minutes note.

Rangi Ruru Girls' School Rowing Manager Olivia Ling.

Olivia Ling, who leads Rangi Ruru's rowing programme says the Maadi Regatta name should change so that it better reflects the full range of events. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The school's rowing manager Olivia Ling said the push for a name change is not just about making the event more gender inclusive, but giving recognition to all disciplines at the regatta.

"It is about the awareness that the event is more than one race, and more than one discipline. For example, sculling events, girls events, and novice events. That's where we want to see the movement to support every event and every athlete at the regatta," she said.

But Rowing NZ said it was limited in what changes it could make.

The event underwent a subtle rebrand in 2022, with Rowing NZ changing the name from the Maadi Cup, to the Maadi Regatta. The governing body said its key sponsor, Aon, owns the naming rights to the event, which complicates any decisions around a name change.

The other handbrake is tradition. The Maadi moniker was synonymous with the schools event. It was so ingrained in the lexicon that rowers will often just refer to the regatta as "Maadi".

Ling acknowledges that even if the name of the event is officially changed, it would be difficult to make those changes stick.

"I think that that's the tricky part as it's such an iconic name so it's going to take a real effort and shift in narrative to change," she said.

Scenes from the 2024 Meridian South Island Champs in January.

At future Maadi Regatta events, the girls may finally get to have the final race, instead of the boys. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Girls quickly 'ushered off the podium' for the boys race

Ling said there were other, more straightforward changes the sport's leaders can make to address the gender imbalance.

Rangi Ruru was the most successful rowing programme in the country, having won the Star Trophy - the prize awarded to the top overall school at the regatta - a record 10 times. It has also won the premier girls title, the Levin Jubilee Cup, 18 times.

But year after year, the girls play second fiddle to the boys.

Ling suggested that rather than giving the Maadi Cup final premier billing every year, the final race of the regatta is alternated between the boys U18 eight final, and the equivalent girls race to ensure the two events are given equal standing.

"There has been previous years where our rowers have been ushered off the podium very quickly because the boys race is coming down, so the girls don't get that same experience of being able to celebrate with their parents or have the haka performed to them by their peers, all because the boys are coming down after their race."

Read more from RNZ's investigation into secondary schools rowing:

  • Over-oared: Has the quest for high school rowing supremacy got out of hand?
  • The dramatic tension in a school rowing dispute
  • Rowing officials are examining a possible rule change to stop year 14s returing to race at the Maadi Regatta
  • Rowing NZ's general manager of community and development Mark Weatherall said the governing body was receptive to making this change.

    "We think it's really important to ensure we are giving equal status to the boys and girls events, and getting that balance right and certainly this is one of the initiatives we are looking at introducing for next year's event," he said.

    "We're confident that these sorts of changes can be made as part of managing the regatta, so it does not require a rule change - there's no rule that the Maadi Cup must be raced last."