Olympic silver medallist and three-time Oxford Blue, Colin Smith (St Catz, 2003), announces the establishment of a truly game-changing fund for the sport at Oxford.

‘Transformational’ £12million gift to Oxford rowing honours Topolski

A major new rowing endowment has been set up in the name of sporting legend and Oxford coach Daniel Topolski. The Topolski Fund is a permanent endowment fund to support all four rowing clubs (the Men’s, Women’s, Men’s Lightweight and Women’s Lightweight), and is anchored by a £12million donation made by a small group of anonymous donors.

The novel aspect of the donation is not only that it comprises £10million in donation, with a further £2million in matched funding, towards a targeted goal of £20million, but that it is tied to providing equal support for both men and women.

Smith notes that the timing of the donation could scarcely be better, particularly in light of declining sponsorship linked partly to the loss of TV rights income. Smith says, ‘The clubs have worked hard in recent years to supplement lost income through merchandise sales, corporate events and fundraising. However, lower sponsorship has still resulted in staff wage freezes, fewer new boats, a reduced training camp and increased subscriptions.’

‘Transformational’ £12million gift to Oxford rowing honours Topolski

Smith also told Oxford Today that a further donation of £625,000 had been received from Miles Morland (OUBC President 1965), one of the architects of the endowment and a long-standing supporter of the rowing clubs and University. Only the generosity of other alumni, he said, had enabled the University to develop the Iffley Road gym and rowing tank, and the Fleming Boathouse at Wallingford.

In addition to supporting the endowment, the University has offered to take on the maintenance costs of the Wallingford boathouse in perpetuity, a move strongly supported by the clubs The trustees of the OUBC Trust, as current owners of the site, are still working through various steps to ensure that they can accept this generous offer, Smith added.

The University is also grateful to Suzy Topolski for supporting the initiative. Daniel Topolski’s record of OUBC wins and his enduring passion for the Boat Race are what he is most famous for, but he also did more than almost anyone else to promote women’s and lightweight rowing.

‘Transformational’ £12million gift to Oxford rowing honours Topolski

In addition to being a world champion lightweight rower himself, he made time to coach other Oxford crews and talk about training programmes and strategy with their coaches; he used his journalism to bring attention to women’s and lightweight rowing, and he coached women’s and lightweight crews at senior international level. In the Boat Race, Dan was the first coach from either side to select a woman as cox (Sue Brown), he was instrumental in appointing the first woman to the OUBC coaching team (Penny Chuter), and he was a strong supporter of the Boat Race Company’s efforts to get the women’s race moved to London. If he were alive today, Daniel would undoubtedly be the leading supporter of this endowment and it is a great honour to have his name on it.

Since the very first boat race between Oxford and Cambridge in 1829, rowing has grown to be one of Oxford’s defining sports, and its most successful. It has produced no fewer than 114 Olympians, including Constantine Louloudis, Andrew Triggs Hodge, Peter Reed, Zoe Lee and Zoe de Toledo — not to mention Sir Matthew Pinsent, winner of four consecutive Olympic gold medals and one of Great Britain’s most successful ever athletes.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and Senior Member of the Oxford University Boat Club, welcomed the development wholeheartedly. ‘The establishment of this endowment presents a great opportunity for rowing at Oxford,’ he said. ‘It will allow all four clubs to pull together to become stronger and ensure excellence in rowing at Oxford flourishes. OUBC is very grateful to the donors for this truly transformational gift.’

The Topolski Fund Facts

  • The endowment is the first in the history of Oxford University that mandates equal treatment of men and women at all times.
  • Funds are held on trust for the Oxford University Rowing Association (OURA), a new association comprising the four University clubs. Each club is equally represented on the OURA, which also includes three independent trustees.
  • The endowment is permanent, meaning the clubs have the benefit of the income, while the capital is protected for future generations.
  • The capital is professionally managed by Oxford University Endowment Management Limited (OUEM), led by Sandra Robertson.The clubs only receive funds when there is a shortfall in sponsorship income, meaning the Topolski Fund will only top up club income to a ‘foundation budget’ rather than disbursing funds automatically. This means that the lightweight clubs will benefit from sponsorship of The Boat Race because the openweight income from the Topolski Fund will be reinvested to the benefit of all four clubs.

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Black-and-white image by Mark Ruscoe. Colour images by Rob Judges / Oxford University Images.


By Dave Postles

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