The world renowned Warwick Rowers are back with a very special 10th anniversary edition of their famed nude charity calendar. Their naked devotion over the last ten years to LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and male mental health has seen them featured regularly in global media.
This year, the rowers are honoured to welcome special guest star, Olympic athlete Robbie Manson to the calendar. The openly gay, two-time Olympic athlete from New Zealand holds the world record for men’s single sculling, officially making him the fastest rower on the planet! When asked about his participation Robbie stated: “As an LGBTQ+ athlete, I value the straight ally message of the Warwick Rowers. They prove you don’t have to be a gay or female athlete to believe passionately that sport should be for everyone, and that sport can show leadership in promoting equality. So, when the guys invited me to join them in their tenth anniversary calendar, I got on a plane!“
The Warwick Rowers project was initiated in 2009 as a fundraising calendar for the university boat club. Over the years, they garnered global recognition through the fundraising initiative and have now evolved into a gay/straight alliance advocating for social equality and LGBTQ+ inclusion, catalysing the movement for male mental health.
YASS Magazine met Angus Malcolm, the creator of the Warwick Rowers campaigning calendar and also founder and chair of the Sport Allies.
Here is the exclusive interview!
How did you come up with the ideaof the Warwick Rowers?
Initially, I liked the idea of looking at men with their clothes off. And I thought that the best idea was to make myself a photographer so that the guys would come and take their clothes off for me. And that’s what happened! A year later I started the Warwick Rowers calendar. I met one of the rowers from Warwick University in London and he modelled for me. This is how I introduced the idea of the Christmas calendars, which is very popular here in the UK, and one year later we made our first calendar.
Did you expect their huge successand popularity?
Not, at all. For the first calendar I only did the pictures and the rowers themselves did the rest. They sent me a copy of the calendar and I realised it was so badly done, it was not the kind of the calendar that I would give as a present to my friends. So, the next year I said that it had to be done on proper paper and with better design so it would reach a wider market. In fact, the first calendar sold only 60 copies! I was sure we could do better than that. So, I sent some pictures to gay clubs and LGBTQ+ websites all around the world and the next day I had received so much feedback! People reacted so well and we became famous in gay websites everywhere. The rowers had no idea who the people interested were, but the calendars were getting sold massively! I asked the rowers how they felt about it and they loved the idea of having found a new target group of gay men who embraced the calendar. So that was it. A new type of sportsmen and a new generation for the Warwick Rowers. This is how the calendar became a campaigning project to combat homophobia in the sports industry and the popularity of the rowers exploded.
You have said that most of themembers of the Warwick Rowers team are heterosexual and come from theUniversity of Warwick men’s rowing team. Is that correct?
Yes, thatis correct. Most of them are heterosexual and, until this year, the have allcome from the rowing team of Warwick University. This year, for the first time,we have 4 guys who are our guests, including Robbie Manson, the Olympicathlete, two twins calling Alex and Sebastian who are friend of a rower andthey all studied together in Madrid, and one guy that we met in a hotel and heexpressed his full admiration of the project.
The future of this project is that we are moving from just being rowers and from just being of Warwick. This is how we are shaping our future and our inclusive mission.
What is the biggest message behindthe nudity?
Straightmen do still have all the power in our society. And they shape almosteverything based on what they like and what they decide to show. So, we wantedto question and change this statement and show what a homosexual person wouldlike to see. We wanted to remove barriers. Homophobia is just one aspect oftoxic masculinity and it’s a manifestation of how people are behaved andexpected to behave. By removing some obstacles and obstructions, you can seehow these psychological barriers can be overcome. It is not just for us to lookat, but it also affects their relationships and their experiences, as all ourrowers share a lot of intimacy and bonding.
You have raised a big amount ofmoney for good causes and you are very activist. What is your mission?
Our mission is better mental health, greater LGBTQ+ inclusion, healthier masculinity and greater gender equality.
What does it take for someone tobecome a part of the Warwick Rowers and how difficult is the audition process?
We have not had a process that far, because historically the rowers came from the rowing team of Warwick University. Now we are at a process of changing that, and this is why we have invited new guests and ambassadors. We are looking at developing processes for recruiting more athletes.
Is there still homophobia? Have therowers faced any racism or discrimination?
The rowershave not really faced any racism because most of them are heterosexual. There isdefinitely homophobia in the industry and this is what we are trying to tackleand combat. However, there is an incorrect assumption that the rowers are gay,just because they pose naked. The whole point is to demonstrate that it is okto be gay and the rowers themselves want to show that they want gay men to feelgood and welcome. And this is their message.
How did you react when didInstagram suspend your account and how did you react?
Haha. We did not take it very well. We are living in very dangerous times at the moment, have a look on what happens all around the world where gay people cannot live freely. Instagram is fully controlled by other company and democracy and democratic processes are being challenged, as communication is controlled by private corporations.
What are the future plans of theWarwick Rowers?
We are planning to grow in the next two years and we will grow beyond rowing and beyond Warwick. The fact that Robbie Manson is a sign of the kindest support we have received from the world of rowing. We hope this campaign that is important not only in the LGBTQ+ sector but in the whole world and we hope it addresses healthier masculinity and women’s rights issues. Sports can change the perceptions of how the whole world should be and how men are seen.
The worldwide support and international success in the gay community led the athletes to set up and fund the registered charity, Sport Allies. The non-profit is devoted to promoting LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality in organised sport. The Warwick Rowers have been recognised with a significant number of awards for excellence, innovation and social impact, and were twice voted UK’s “Charity Calendar of the Year.” We would love to set up an interview with their founder/photographer, Angus Malcolm to discuss a range of topics including: gender equality, homophobia and what we can expect in the future from the rowers.
*all images are courtesy of Agnus Malcolm