sport

Sbihi keen to raise race's profile

The mass appeal of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race is helping rowing shed its elitist past, according to GB Rowing star Moe Sbihi.

London 2012 bronze medallist Sbihi and his GB team-mates have helped Oxford and Cambridge prepare for the 140th Boat Race, which takes place on Sunday.

Kingston-born Sbihi believes the characters and backgrounds of Olympic and elite British rowers have widened considerably in the last decade.

The 26-year-old himself is the first Muslim to represent Team GB in the sport, and is adamant the Boat Race's high profile is far more important than any outdated notions of class warfare.

"One of the big things about the Boat Race is that a lot of people are aware of it; maybe more so than the GB rowing team," said reigning world men's eight champion Sbihi.

"Personally I've never rowed in the Boat Race, but when I do speak to someone who asks what I do and I tell them I'm a rower they always ask about the Boat Race, whether I've done it or would want to do it.

"So it's an extremely prominent fixture within the GB rowing calendar, so it's vital for raising the profile of the sport.

"Alongside that for us as a GB rowing team there's many stories that come from the Boat Race, with athletes like George who come from that and go on to the Olympics and other top events in the sport.

"Participation numbers have kept on rising over the last 10 years or so.

"The difference in the broad characters we have in our squad is a definite representation of how the sport has opened up in the last 10 years."

The GB rowing team will face World Cup events in France in June and Switzerland in July, and preparations are already intensifying.

Internal trials will decide the make-up of the crews for the summer World Cup meets, with Sbihi admitting that kind of competition is vital in a sport lacking weekly fixtures.

"We're not like footballers and rugby players, who get to play week in and week out, so you can become quite good trainers as such," said Sbihi, who helped the RNLI raise awareness of their work in London by rowing a 100-year-old lifeboat on the River Thames.

"So learning and figuring out how to race internally will only help everyone prepare for the summer.

"Each year people are just getting better and better and the younger ones are getting stronger and stronger and pushing everyone along."