In contrast to the chariot races of ancient Byzantium, I guess you could call the boat race 'mostly harmless', nobody dies or sustains contact sport encephalopathy CSE and it allows young men (and indeed now young women) to show their physical prowess and their ability to act effectively as a team. These are skills that are valued in their post-university life - as merchant bankers, judges, MPs, foreign correspondents, spies and explorers. Each year in the Autumn, there is a dinner at which the losers of last year's event formally challenge the winners to a re-match. Last year this event was held at the head office of BNY-Mellon a multinational finance company which is the primary corporate sponsor and will doubtless be recruiting from among these top-class chaps. Multinational is probably appropriate because, this year, only 40% of the crew in this quintessentially British event were British. But none of them were black - which is odd considering how well they do in other sports. But then BYN-Mellon don't want to recruit black chaps, no matter how smart - they might frighten off the investors.
So far so sportsmanlike. It was another story three years ago, when a privately educated white Australian plunged into the river as the boats approached [Grauniad] and brought the race to a halt while he was fished out, hand-cuffed and bundled away. The race was restarted from that position and Cambridge went on to win. The perp Trenton Oldfield was sentenced to 6 months in chokey for being a public nuisance which is step worse and two steps more medieval than a public order offense. He was also fined £750 to defray the public costs of his venture and threatened with deportation although that was rescinded on appeal. Oldfield was protesting about everything that was annoying him that week - elitism, cuts to the NHS and the introduction of new laws to reduce the right to privacy.
Social media soon found out where he lived (and his wife too, who was British but dusky) and among a lot of other ad hominem abuse invited him to go back where he came from. Just like I was invited to do when I confessed to being of Protestant Anglo-Irish descent. One of the planks of Oldfield's appeal against deportation was that his wife would experience significantly more abuse in Oz than at home in the UK. Indeed he accepted the whole premise of there being a natural home for people according to the colour of their skin when he claimed to be a European, and appalled at the treatment of aborigines in Australia and that was why he chose to live in England. Me, I claim to be European too because I don't feel comfortable throwing in my lot with a smaller constituency but I'd rather be a Citizen of the World than consciously join forces with a bunch of white dudes.
The Man, and particular the judge in Oldfield's case, was annoyed and over-the-top in the sentence because he smugly believed that Britain was an open democracy which allows differences of opinion, protests indeed, to the ideas and ideals of the government. They would much prefer if expression of dissent was, however, limited to a shouty burst in your own bedroom. If you get out and disrupt things because your peaceful protests have been long-and-long ignored, then you get an indignant book thrown at you. You can have a march and even chant slogans to match your bed-sheet banners, but, as in Ireland, you have to apply to the police for permission. This is all good for normal life for those who aren't engaged but it doesn't encourage real dissent and real questioning of the unconsidered certainties that enslave any society, yours included.
Another tack in the media coverage that could bear scrutiny is the notion of manhood. Oldfield said: “I would have felt less of a man if I hadn’t done it, if I hadn’t made that rupture into these issues" but one of the losing Oxford crew thought otherwise "You, who would make a mockery of [our] dedication and courage, are a mockery of a man". We are just primates, really, but articulate primates.