While the history of higher education in Portugal is among the oldest in the world – the University of Coimbra, established in 1290, was recently listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – rowing is a relative newcomer to a number of campuses across the country.

“University rowing in Portugal is practically non-existent,” Antonio Valente Fortuna, General Director of the Portuguese Rowing Federation, is quick to point out, before providing further explanation. It may be true that organised university rowing is in its infancy, but it is growing. And having the European University Games is bound to stimulate the sport.  

“In total we will have four universities that will compete at the Europeans,” says Valente, who notes that there are currently six institutions with rowing interest across the nation. In a somewhat similar arrangement to other nations such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, Portuguese student rowers train and race primarily as members of their local community rowing clubs.

2018 Portuguese University Rowing Championships © Portuguese Rowing Federation

 

“The universities are engaged in partnerships with local clubs to provide training sessions for their students,” says Valente. This means that regular club regattas are the focus throughout most of the racing calendar. However, once a year students are able to represent their schools.

“The only university competition in Portugal is the National University (Rowing) Championships,” explains Valente, “which is usually part of a regatta organised by a club.” Students race as part of their clubs, but for the specific university events, “they compete for their universities”.

This year’s event took place in late April on the scenic Douro River in the city of Porto, where the University of Porto and their affiliate, the Club Naval Infante D. Henrique, have hosted the regatta since 2013. The five events were the men’s and women’s single sculls, men’s and women’s double sculls and men’s four. The University of Porto enjoyed a near clean sweep of the regatta, winning gold in all events but one, the men’s double, which went to the University of Minho.

Although Valente is all too aware of the fact that university rowing in Portugal is still “very small,” this lone student regatta is fast becoming an important stepping stone and qualification process for teams wishing to compete at the European level. “Those who want to participate in the European University (Rowing Championships or Games) have to compete in the National University Rowing Championships,” he says.

“We think that the European Games will provide a good example to Portugal,” concludes Valente, who hopes that the event will motivate universities to start looking at [student] sport with the importance it deserves.

The enormous potential surrounding the growth of university rowing is not lost on Michael D’Eredita, High Performance Director for the Portuguese Rowing Federation, who sees this as one part of a bigger resurgence of the sport throughout the country. “Portuguese rowing, in general,” he says, “is experiencing a bit of a rebirth on multiple fronts.”