28 March 2024

‘Massive water advocate’ Annie Sharp excited for Boat Race on Thames

28 March 2024

Annie Sharp is only half-joking when she predicts she will be the only rower as excited about starting the Boat Race in close proximity to the Thames’ new ‘super sewer’ as she is about the chance to snap a six-year winless stretch for Oxford’s women.

The 24-year-old’s enthusiasm for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a £4.5 billion, 25km-long sewage structure which saw its final piece lifted into place this week, makes more sense when you learn that Sharp is a MSc water science, policy & management student at St Antony’s College.

Oxford last won the women’s Boat Race in 2016, the same year work began on the sewer, but might not be able to partake in the traditional celebratory dip should they win the 78th women’s edition this Saturday after high levels of E. coli were found along the Championship Course.

Speaking before the findings were announced, Sharp, who will occupy the six seat, told the PA news agency: “We are working with water and unfortunately against it sometimes with the flooding that we’ve had at Wallingford this year.

“I’m a massive water advocate, and (for) the energy that we can also get back from renewable energy.

“British Rowing released their environment and sustainability programme (this month), some of the athletes are leading programmes and pushing for athletes to be more involved.

“I think absolutely, as role models they are massive for people trying to learn how to row and progress, so them using that platform I think is super important. Ultimately we all need to do our bit, but you do need the top-down approaches that really lead those decisions.”

Rowers have been issued safety guidance, including tips around covering cuts with waterproof dressings, taking care not to swallow river water, wearing suitable footwear and cleaning all equipment thoroughly.

Tideway, the company building the super sewer, has now completed the full 25km, 7.2m-wide main tunnel, a 4.5km connection tunnel in south-east London, and a 1.1km tunnel in south-west London. 

It claims that, once fully opened in 2025, it should “almost completely” reduce “tens of millions of tonnes of storm sewage” that makes its way into the Thames annually.

British Rowing, meanwhile, launched a new sustainability policy on the same day Sharp and the 35 other athletes taking seats in the Blue Boats this Saturday were announced.

The national governing body cited the latest State of Our Rivers report from The Rivers Trust which revealed that not a single river in England or Northern Ireland was considered ‘in good overall health’. 

As part of its new initiative, a partnership with River Action, The Rivers Trust and Aquascope, British Rowing will be announcing a funding programme which will enable clubs – over 30 of which sit along the Boat Race course – to test their water, clean up litter and tackle the increasing problem of invasive species.

Olympian Imogen Grant, a two-time Boat Race winner with Cambridge who came up 0.01 seconds short of lightweight double skulls bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Games and will try again this summer in Paris, has long advocated for sustainability within her sport and beyond.

Grant, one of four athletes comprising British Rowing’s sustainability working group at Caversham, told PA: “We spend three or four hours out on the water every single day. I’ve been rowing for nine years now and I’ve seen the impact of the climate on the rivers during that time. There’s been more flooding, races are cancelled due to strong winds, bad weather, things that would have been unforeseeable a decade ago.

“Something like the climate crisis can feel so overwhelming, but rowers, we know water, we know wind, we know that space, so starting with change there is a really great way to empower people.

“We’re so well placed as sports people to do this. It’s what we do every day. We love to root for an underdog. We love to choose a goal and work towards it, and that’s exactly what we need to do with our rivers’ health.”

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