'Bring back Boat Race in 2024' says Ely councillor

Cllr Alison Whelan and Boat Race plea

Cllr Alison Whelan who has asked Boat Race organisers to consider bringing the event back to Ely. The race would commemorate 80 years since it was staged here in 1944 (left) and be a thanks to the city for staying away in 2021. - Credit: Archant/Isle of Ely Rowing Club archive

An Ely councillor hopes the Boat Race can return in three years' time to celebrate 50 years since achieving city status.

It would also be a thank you for residents for staying away this year.  

“The year 2024 is a very important year for Ely,” says Cllr Alison Whelan. 

“In that year, Ely is celebrating 50 years since achieving city status and 50 years since a mayoralty was conveyed when the Queen visited the city. 

“More importantly it will be 80 years since the Boat Race was last run on the River Great Ouse at Ely.” 

Her thoughts have been set out in a letter to Boat Race organisers ahead of the event being held in Ely on April 4.  

“How wonderful it would be if we could plan to hold the Boat Race in Ely in 2024 to help mark these prestigious anniversaries,” she said.  

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“This would also be a way of rewarding the residents of Ely for staying away in 2021.” 

It would also mean an economic boost for the city; possibly as much as £4m.  

A 2017 report into the impact of a single day major event on a city was commissioned by the Boat Race Company and engineering firm Arup. 

They estimated back then that the total net economic benefit to the area around the race alone to be between £2.8m and £3.7m each year. 

Cllr Whelan says her letter was written in her capacity as a councillor for Ely North, which incorporates part of the Boat Race route.  

"The news that the Boat Race was coming to Ely was tremendously welcomed by residents almost without exception,” she said.  

“They saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this classic race, once again along the banks of the River Ouse. 

“Imagine, then, the disappointment that greeted many people that they were not going to be allowed anywhere near the river, let alone the race.” 

Cllr Whelan added: “Compound that with being the first weekend of lockdown easing and they discover so many roads and paths are going to be blocked – locking them back in their properties.” 

She agreed that “the need to prevent large gatherings of people is essential and I have spoken to many people about this”.  

Now she hopes Boat Race officials will “put me in touch with appropriate people to assist in ensuring the Boat Race comes to Ely in 2024”.  

Up to 250,000 people would normally watching the race besides the Thames with many millions watching it on their television.  

This year the plea is to stay at home and watch the race on the tv.  

In 1944, and in the latter stages of the Second World War, the race was switched to Ely. Large numbers crowded the riverside.  

For 2021, Siobhan Cassidy, Cambridge director for the Boat Race Company, has this bit of advice.  

"It's a historic rivalry like no other,” she said. “You don't have to have any attachment to the universities - just pick a colour and get behind them."