The University Boat Race will end 185 years of male domination in 2015, when the women’s match between Oxford and Cambridge is moved to take place on the same day and on the same course through west London.
The change will see the women’s Boat Race – which currently takes place out of the spotlight in Henley-on-Thames each spring – start just before the men’s race on the 4.25-mile course from Putney to Mortlake.
The announcement comes as part of a new five-year sponsorship deal with asset management company BNY Mellon, which will bring equal funding to men and women from this year, without reducing the amount the men’s squads currently receive.
The men’s Boat Race began in 1829 and has been run on the current course on the River Thames in London since 1845. A live audience of 250,000 is expected for the 156th running of the event on 7 April. Annual TV audiences regularly top 7m for an event that costs almost £1m to stage each year.
The women’s event started in 1927 in Henley, attracting a few thousand spectators. This year’s race, alongside the lightweight events, takes place on 25 March. It has made rare appearances on TV in the past as part of the build-up to the men’s event.
Organisers have decided to wait another three years to move the women’s race to the Tideway, taking time to improve infrastructure and to work out complex logistics around the change.
Women have been involved as coxes for the men’s crews since 1980 and Zoe de Toledo is likely to cox Oxford this year.
Although no scholarships are allowed, the men’s Boat Race is often of world-class standard, with funding for training and facilities attracting international rowers tend to enrol at the two universities and compete.
Five members of the Great Britain squad for London 2012, including Olympic champions Andy Hodge, Pete Reed and Tom James, have taken part in recent races.
The women’s event currently involves crews that are on a par with the country’s leading club crews but well below international standard so the move is expected to bring extra funding to the women’s squads.
The move is likely to come too late for Natalie Redgrave, daughter of five-time Olympic champion Sir Steve, to race for Oxford on the Thames. She helped the dark blues to victory last year in her first Boat Race, during her second year at university.
The BBC have committed to giving equal coverage to both races but have yet to seal a new contract past 2014 and have not made clear their exact plans.