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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 15:30 GMT
BBC says farewell to Boat Race
Oxford stroke Matt Smith celebrates winning last year's event
Oxford were winners in 2003
The BBC has announced it will no longer televise the University Boat Race after this year's event in March.

A statement said the BBC was sad to end its 66-year association with the event but it planned to make the 2004 race a "fitting finale" to its coverage.

It said the decision was "in light of the organisers' desire to pursue a highly commercial agenda" for the race.

Boat Race organisers revealed they had agreed a five-year deal for ITV to screen the event starting in 2005.

The BBC will continue to televise rowing at the Olympics and World Championship levels.

"We are proud that our innovative coverage has helped The Boat Race into the event that it currently is, and one that has been brought to millions of homes," the BBC statement said.

"We intend to make the 150th Boat Race in March a fitting finale, and we are happy that we will continue to concentrate on rowing at Olympic and World Championship level."

Race organiser Duncan Clegg denied the BBC's claims of over-commercialism.

"We have been in negotiations with the BBC and ITV for some months and the fact is ITV made us a much more attractive offer financially," said Clegg.

"However, what swung the decision was that ITV want to make it a much bigger event and are proposing to showcase it in a much bigger way."

Clegg said the audio rights, currently held by BBC Radio Five Live, were still being negotiated.

ITV's controller of sport Brian Barwick said: "The Boat Race is an integral part of the British sporting year - it has a genuine history, nationwide appeal and has produced some superb competition in recent times.

"It is a very telegenic event and ITV Sport looks forward to the challenge of giving it the same prominence as our other big sporting events."

Sporting tradition

The Boat Race, which sees crews of eight from Oxford and Cambridge compete over a four-mile course on the River Thames, is one of the fixtures of the British sporting and social calendar.

It boasts a large domestic and international audience, with 7.7m UK viewers - the highest figure in recent years - watching the BBC coverage in 2003.

The race began in 1829 after two friends - Charles Merival who was at Cambridge, and Charles Wordsworth (nephew of the poet William Wordsworth), a student at Oxford - decided to hold a race between the universities.

The first commentary of the Boat Race was broadcast on BBC radio in 1927 and the first TV coverage was in 1938.

This year's race takes place on Sunday, 28 March at 1800BST.

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