A model of sporting inclusivity: The Worcester College 5-a-side tournament

Worcester College has a history of widespread sporting participation, stemming from the presence of pitches on the college site, which brings sport to its members’ doorsteps. This leaves an interesting scenario as Trinity term arrives, with many unwilling to depart from these sporting habits. Worcester’s annual 5-a-side football tournament fills this void in a perfect way, providing a chance for both regulars and newcomers to engage in a relaxed competition. With mixed-gender teams being a mandatory requirement and squads of every year group, as well as staff, taking part, the tournament is accessible for a range of people far beyond the standard pool of avid footballers.

Sunday 30th April saw the most recent edition of the competition, and my first experience of it. While my team suffered a group-stage exit, our stint saw Chiara Stark, a first-year English student, take her first steps towards a career in college football. With no first-year women joining the college’s football team this year, the event was a catalyst for future participation. Chiara gave the following account of the experience:

“Even as someone who can barely kick a ball around, joining the 5-a-side team has been an enjoyable experience – both because of the games themselves and the team spirit. With many of us stuck in libraries, our departments, or our rooms all day, training for the tournament was a lovely opportunity to get out into the sunshine during Trinity and unwind for a bit. If you get the chance, it’s a great way to exercise while having fun – you might even find yourself getting swept up in the competitive spirit, overwhelming passion and college patriotism.”

The build-up to the tournament saw weeks of negotiation unfold, with students who had never played football being encouraged to fill vital squad places. Vishil Devshi, a first-year Physics student, was a key part of this process – drawing in students from across the year-group and undoubtedly influencing their future participation in college sport. The relaxed nature of the competition allowed Vishil’s return to the pitch after many months of rest following a knee ligament injury – quoted to be a return “on the same level as Henry to Arsenal ”. While still out of breath, an ambitious Vishil described his thoughts on the competition:

“We weren’t expecting to come here and win everything, and we are the underdogs, but I’m seeing lots of improvements out on the pitch. The tournament has been great fun and a good day out – and we’re aiming to win it next year.”

The tournament’s debut edition came soon after the relaxation of pandemic regulations, with the cancellation of both college and university sport throughout the previous year leaving students with minimal opportunity for competition. Thomas Bithell, now a fourth-year chemist, has been a key figure in the conception and subsequent running of the tournament over its five editions. Thomas described this year’s event as having “the largest number of teams and quality of players we’ve ever had”. Interviewed at half-time while 1-0 up in the tournament’s final, Thomas stated he was “seven-and-a-half minutes from glory” – having never won the competition. Tactical clearances into the nearby hedges allowed time for this glory to be achieved, and the prizes of wine and mini-rolls to be earned – an “incredible feeling” for Thomas.

When asking participants for a one-word summary of the tournament, answers ranged from “fantastic”, to “scandalous”, to “revenge” – often depending on the outcome of the player’s most recent fixture. No matter the immediate response, the overarching view is that Worcester’s 5-a-side tournament is a brilliant event that brings members from across the college together. The low-maintenance, laid-back style of the competition allows students to introduce themselves to college sport in the best way possible. Making the most of Trinity term’s improved weather and long days may be the best approach for encouraging inclusivity in sport and should be considered as a method of raising participation across the University.


Image description: A football player getting ready to shoot at goal

Image credit: Anastasia Shuraeva via Pexels