BY ED MORAN
PHOTO BY SPORTGRAPHICS
The Head of the Charles Regatta, one of the last of the major rowing events that has not yet been lost to the Covid-19 Pandemic was officially canceled Wednesday.
After weeks of mulling over possible smaller versions of the iconic regatta, even partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital to determine a safe way to do that, it became clear to the HOCR organizers that the only thing that could possibly take place on the Charles River this fall would be a “token event.”
In an official announcement posted on Twitter and on the Head of the Charles website, the 56th version of the Head of the Charles was officially canceled, for only the second time in the regatta’s history, the first coming in 1996 during a major coastal storm. In making the announcement, the regatta unveiled plans to host a virtual, global, event on the weekend the race was supposed to take place, Oct. 17-18.
“It’s crushingly disappointing,” said HOCR executive director Fred Schoch. “We lost the event in ’96, and that was a horrible day because we had to cancel it event by event and everybody had arrived and spent all their money to be there.
“It was really messy and everyone came and went and left disappointed. This way at least we can refocus people and give them something to train for, and something to look forward to. But it really hurts, you plan all year, my job is not unlike being a wedding planner, all your efforts go into one weekend a year and to lose it hurts.”
According to Schoch, the cancellation was not unexpected given the current state of the pandemic and all efforts were made to try and stage an event of significantly reduced size. To do that, the HOCR partnered with epidemiologists at Mass General and began exploring options.
“We sent all the subcommittees, of which there are about 40, back to their corners to research how we might run a singles only event,” Schoch said. “We knew a full on sweep regatta was really off the table early on because of Covid, and the fact that no colleges are going to be rowing this fall.
“We listened to many voices,” Schoch said. “In addition to the race committee, we engaged the infectious disease department at Mass General Hospital to advise us on how we might do a singles only event, and also how we might do a community service event, which we might do at some point this fall, details to be determined again.
“We charged the Mass General Hospital team who know nothing about the logistics of running the Head of the Charles, but know everything about the medical risks, how would you advise us on doing it.
“They did come up with a number of ways that we could cautiously run a very small event. And that was sort of the deal-breaker for me, that it would be a token event, 180 to maximum 400 people,” Schoch said. “And even then, the logistics of having all those people be from within 140-mile radius, according to USRowing guidelines, under the age of 65, show up at six in the morning on Saturday morning for a one-day event, was a deal-breaker.”
The regatta is one of the last of the big rowing events to be canceled this year, and has always been a highlight to the Boston fall sports scene. The two-day event annually attracts 11,000 athletes from around the world and draws hundreds of thousand spectators to the banks of the Charles River.
Having the regatta canceled was not lost on Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who was quoted in the Boston Globe saying, “As someone who has stood on the banks of the Charles off and on for 40 years enjoying the race I, like so many other fans of the Regatta, am saddened by this announcement but can totally understand the decision. COVID changes many things and it is better to be safe.”
The HOCR cancellation followed the cancellation of the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta in Philadelphia Tuesday.
“I feel personally that we almost waited longer than we wanted to in making this decision, given that so many other events after us have canceled,” Schoch said.
“So, I set the staff to work to come up with what is in the realm of possible and that’s when we landed on this global, remote event where people are going to be able to row the HOCR distance on any body of water anywhere in the world and submit a time.
“Hopefully we will see a large competitive field for that and then on the weekend of the Charles we will do a live virtual competition for various age groups working with RegattaCentral and Nielsen-Kellerman.
“We’ll turn the page and we’ll use this time wisely and make the Head of the Charles 2021 even better, but hopefully we will see a heavy subscription ergometer and virtual events, which the entry fees will go to support the new Gold Cup, Head of the Charles diversity event which we announced this week.”