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Choppy waters ahead for Boat Race

Mihir Bose | 19:20 UK time, Friday, 20 July 2007

A dispute over the eligibility of foreign competitors sounds more like a story from the world of football than from the oldest and most British of sporting events.

But the BBC has learned that Oxford and Cambridge are in the midst of a row which has cast a shadow over the Boat Race.

The argument centres on a German oarsman who helped Cambridge to win this year's race but then left the university.

The problem arose when soon after Cambridge's victory in this year's Boat Race, German rower Thorsten Engelmann returned home.

He told Cambridge he would not be returning to the university to complete the rest of his second year of his three-year Economics course.

According to the rules of the race agreed to by the two boat clubs, rowers must be genuine students undertaking an academic course they intend to complete.

This is to avoid universities parachuting in international rowers merely to win the Boat Race.

Cambridge wrote to Oxford about what Engelmann had done. Oxford were outraged.

They felt Engelmann had played a vital role in the Cambridge victory and proposed that the race should either be awarded to them or declared void.

When Cambridge refused, Oxford suggested the matter go to arbitration. Cambridge refused. Their response has been to tell Engelmann he will not get a blue and to write to the Oxford President apologising for what has happened.

Cambridge are in no doubt that Engelmann was eligible when he rowed. As far as they are concerned, this is a race between gentlemen and when somebody behaves like Engelmann in an ungentlemanly fashion, this is how you settle matters.

Oxford do not feel Cambridge's response goes far enough or addresses the issue.

They would have preferred to have an arbitration panel to look into the issue of eligibility.

Indeed the matter has got so heated that lawyers have been consulted and it has even been discussed by the two vice chancellors.

With no solution in sight, there can be little doubt it has soured the memories of this year's Boat Race and the normally cordial relations between the two university boat clubs.

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