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A Daredevil Disrupted Annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.

Sweden, April 8 -- As the President of the Oxford University Boat Club put it, "My team went through seven months of hell to reach the pinnacle of our careers," to highlight the sacrifice made by the team to leave their mark on the sporting world. However, for a man who was determined to risk his life to launch a protest - and to be branded as an attention-seeker by the boat racing lovers - it just took a few minutes to ruin the very dream in the full glare of publicity on Saturday.

The disruption that lasted for about half an hour, more or less, paved the way for Cambridge to win the closely-contested race this year in a controversial atmosphere.

The race, known as The Boat Race, has been held annually since 1859, except during the two World Wars, between the two famous university teams, at the start of the spring season. It has been drawing in vast crowds along the banks of the River Thames to watch the event in recent years, thanks to the ever increasing number of tourists who visit the country at this time of the year.

The 7km race was dramatically disrupted when the distance left to cover was little more than 2km, when Trenton Oldfied, aged 35, plunged into the Thames at the Surrey bend stage of the race, wearing a wet suit to deal with the freezing temperature of the water.

Unless he took a well-timed dive when the two boats approached him, he certainly would have lost his head to a blow from a blade of an oar from the Oxford boat; he was swimming directly into the narrow corridor between the two boats, completely ignoring the impending danger.

He popped his head up again with a broad smile - perhaps, congratulating himself - only to be arrested by the police on a petrol boat. Wrapped up in a red blanket, he was led away, amidst the scoffs of the spectators for spoiling a great sporting event. Mr Oldfied, who had been detained in a police station in West London, was later charged with public order offences.

Mr Oldfied, a privately-educated individual and a graduate from the London School of Economics(LSE), had declared online that his performance was a protest against elitism and designed to inspire other peaceful demonstrations. 'This is a protest, an act of civil disobedience, a methodology of refusing and resistance,' added Mr Oldfied in his lengthy online statement. 'This is "peaceful"... I have no weapons (don't shoot!) my only fear, is not swimming fast enough to get in the right position to prevent the boats.' Said Mr Oldfied - a message, perhaps, aimed at the police who are always on the lookout for terrorists.

While shedding more light on the daring feat, he said: 'My swim into the pathway of the two boats today (I hope) is a result of key guerrilla tactics; local knowledge, ambush, surprise, mobility and speed, detailed information and decisiveness. There is no choice but to be apprehended in this action. I know this area very well and have planned the swim as best as I can, taking into account all the local knowledge I have gained over the years.'

Despite the setback, the race was successfully wound up without a major unpleasant incident. However, Mr Oldfield's stunt has all the ingredients to spark off a catalogue of major security concerns ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The fact that the major sporting events are spoilt by the sane individuals is nothing new in England. It happens fairly regularly and even adds a bit of entertainment in its own right to the event in question by spicing up the spectacle out of the blue.

In the past, for instance, we have seen grown-up, completely-harmless men running into the football grounds in 'birthday suits'. Then, a couple of policemen follow the individual with their caps in hand to cover in a rush, what the enthralled audience was not supposed to see.

Occasionally, a woman would do the same during a cricket match, giving even more challenges to the beleaguered policemen when it comes to the business of concealing - in proportion to what is on display, of course.

These stunts, however, took place in an era when the acts of terrorism - especially by the IRA - never led to the deliberate killing of civilians.

Since the modern enemy is much more ruthless, the police are on the alert as never before. So, the men who indulge in these stunts know very well the risks involved in the 'operations'. In that context, Mr Oldfield's appeal - don't shoot me, I am unarmed - is completely understandable.

However, it is too early to write off the 'species' that Mr Oldfield belongs to, despite the risks and frustration of sporting fans. Because, even if the public do not approve of the stunts that disrupt the sporting events, they equally oppose the long arm of law coming down very hard on the daredevils who are launch these acts.

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Publication:Asian Tribune (India)
Date:Apr 8, 2012
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