Interview: Oxford University Sports Federation President

On Sports Fed’s ethos and excellence vs. participation:

We’re quite lucky in that the college system provides us with an inter-menial sports structure so we have to do very little to fission across the University campus. Unfortunately what it does mean is that the colleges tend to keep to themselves so we don’t have a huge amount of involvement in cuppers competitions which are more participation based. The University level sport and Full Blues sports; that’s our elite element. In terms of ethos we’re very much about participation and excelling. We’re the administrative body for the clubs, not at a college level so our remit is to offer more sport at an elite level.

On Vincent’s and Atalanta’s and attempts to admit women to Vincent’s:

These two have interesting status inside the university, they are made up of university members predominantly, and obviously you have alumni members as well. They don’t have any formal affiliation to the University sports department. Both are proto-affiliated with us and to the University but we don’t have any official relationship with them whatsoever. My personal opinion is that the fact that there currently existing clubs in which people think that it is right and still acceptable to exclude particular people based on gender, despite the fact that their own constitution sets out very specific parameters which are based on sporting ability (and there’s a social parameter as well)… It should be nothing to do with gender. Your gender should never exclude you from any of those two things. That is my personal opinion.

 On decisions to award half and full blues:

That’s not Oxford University Sport’s decision. That’s made by the Blues Committee. They’re an interesting body because they sit somewhere between Sports Fed and the general University body and they’re not actually affiliated with either. They’re made up of students and the captains of the individual sports. So if you’re a Blues captain, you have to attend at least one meeting a term and once every three years your sport’s status gets reviewed. There are 11 full blues for the men and 18 for women at the moment. There are half blues, full blues and discretionary blues. Discretionary full blues are awarded to individuals whose sport carries a half blue status, but if exceptional individuals meet certain criteria the captain can then award at their discretion. When it comes to reviewing statuses, half blues can only vote on themselves, discretionary can only vote on themselves and halves and full can vote on everyone. You can’t vote higher than your own status. I think it’s a system which has worked and what happens at the meetings is actually very representative of the level of the sports in each category. How these decisions are made is in the constitution, you have to meet certain criteria. For a full blues sport there has to be a national team that’s been to international competitions, but there’s nothing about an Olympic clause. There has to be a national system of that sport, not necessarily professional league. It’s more about the status (national participation, sports played in schools etc.) of the sport and the global participation. GB ranking in a sport is important too because it is fairly reflective of how well developed that sport is in this country.

There are 11 full blues men and 18 full blues women

Some sports have no status at all, but all they have to do is put in an application to either the Men’s or Women’s Blues Committee and the president [of either the Women’s or the Men’s Blues Committee] will then go through it and help with the application and then that sport presents itself to the Blues committee – one vote per club, a yes no vote. They will get fairly grilled, the idea is to keep the integrity of the Blue and now that we have so many different clubs (we have 85 different clubs) and so many of them have fantastic athletes in them with a high level of play. Having a college system beneath you is also important. For example, if you look at football, we have one of the largest football structures in the country. We are our own FA. But it is very difficult to make these kinds of decisions when there is such as disparate range of sports available. Every sport has a limit as to how many blues can be given out which is very firmly capped and this is kept in check by the captains themselves – it’s fairly self-regulated.

Your gender should never exclude you from anything

On Sports Fed involvement in big college competitions (cuppers, Summer VIIIs, Torpids etc.):

The big ones are Summers VIIIs and Torpids. We’re involved in providing facilities and in terms of Health and Safety regulations and we put staff out for the big three (rowing, rugby and football) and for smaller cuppers events. At this point we want to work more closely with the clubs than we do with the bigger three just in terms of participation. 8 years ago, a previous Sports Fed president tried to introduce an overall cuppers competition in which a huge trophy would be given out to the nominal cuppers winners: the college that wins the highest number of cuppers competitions. There is a points system running but the system we have right now isn’t good enough to track cuppers results as they happen but we’d definitely like to improve it. We looked into a number of online platforms to see how we could run it best. Essentially, we’d like to run a BUCs-esque system internally. It’s something I think we could do very well in the future and it’s something I’d definitely like to see happen.

Any sport has a limit as to how many blues can be given

On the new facilities (building due to start in 2016):

Everything is going to be redone. The first thing will be a new, glass-floored sports hall. The second and third stage will involve a new grand stand [out on the athletics track], an indoor tennis centre, a new gym and a relaying of the existing sports hall. That’s going to start hopefully in March (a rough estimate) but there is a lot to finish up. There is a lot of fundraising going on and we’re very close to our target, so many people have been incredibly generous and a lot of alumni have donated already. The new sports hall, for instance, will be the Acer Nethercott sports hall. Acer was a cox in the Blues Boat in the 1980s and died quite young so it’s being named in his memory. It’s going to be a fantastic facility. The development is hopefully going to be completed by 2017.

On sporting scholarships:

There are 10 BNY scholars, 3 BP scholars and 1 Blackwell scholar

Last year we had 10 BNY scholars, across all sports. We’re just about to open applications for this year’s round of those. There are also 3 BP scholars and 1 athlete on the Blackwell Scholarship so we have 14 scholars per year. Each scholar gets £500 a year with free gym and pool membership. There is also the Oxford Alumni award, applications for which began 2 months ago (it’s now getting towards the end of the process) which is £250 each and there 4 of them. There are other scholarships from other sources. For example, Vincent’s Club (although not connected with us) run a very generous scholarship scheme as well; different people get awarded different amounts but I think the top amount is around £1,500 for that, maybe more. Three of the Vincent’s Club scholars this year were women, I think for the first time. Apart from that we have Termly Representative Funding Grants which are open to anyone who has done international or county level sport during that term who are incurring costs as a result of travelling to competitions. We have £1,000 per term to split between all termly applicants. There is no examination day to prove their level of ability. We pretty much take it as given that if you say you’re playing for England, then you’re playing for England. Blackwell scholarship awards are decided by the Sports Fed president some of the others are made by Sports Fed Executive.