The Varsity is an annual race between several Dutch student rowing societies, held on the ‘Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal’ nearby Houten in the Netherlands. The race is modelled after the Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race. The tradition started in 1878 when ‘Njord’ from Leiden challenged ‘Laga’ from Delft to a race on the ‘Galgewater’ in Leiden. Since then the Varsity has evolved to be the oldest and most significant student sporting event in the Netherlands. On the 7th of April this year the event, which is steeped in history and tradition, will take place for the 136th time.
The competition consists of multiple races in several race rowing classes. The main event, however, is the race of the ‘Oude Vieren’ (‘Old Four’), also known as the ‘Hoofdnummer’ (‘Main Number’), in which the four best rowers of every student rowing club compete against each other. Winning this race can be seen as reaching the top of the Dutch rowing community. It is often hard to understand for outsiders why many rowers value their victory on the Varsity more than their Olympic medals. It becomes more comprehensible when one finally visits the event: the atmosphere on the riverside, the anticipation for the races and finally the euphoria of the winning student society. The students welcome their winning rowers swimming practically naked but never take off their tie. That in order to leave their clothes dry to attend the ‘kroegjool’ (a massive celebration in the home-town of the winning rowers).
By tradition, the race is hosted by a group of students from ‘Triton’, the student rowing society based in Utrecht. The organisation of the Varsity has increased in professionalism and the number of spectators has grown immensely over the years. The essence and nature of the event, however, have remained unchanged until this day. This results in a prestigious and one-of-a-kind event.