Mel Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish
The sports budget of the SOAS Students’ Union has come under scrutiny over the past month, after the payment of the most recent set of fines incurred by sports societies. Last month the Students’ Union was obliged to pay £1200 to British University and Colleges Sports (BUCS), the UK’s governing body for university sport. All fines were incurred by SOAS teams who failed to attend fixtures or cancel them in time, with the largest fees being incurred by SOAS’ two football teams who failed to attend 18 fixtures and incurred £700 in fines in total.
Sports teams are permitted by BUCS to miss two planned fixtures before incurring fines, however after this limit, the cost of failing to attend is a hefty £50 per fixture. These fines are paid by the Students’ Union, not by the teams that fail to attend, and are not incorporated into the already sizeable sports budget that the Union provides to sports societies. Sports spending within the Union is only surpassed by the section of the budget allotted to wages: over the past academic year, the sports budget totalled £69,087, more than the budgets for welfare, campaigns and events put together.
This budget is overwhelmingly spent on the costs of pitch bookings, with other costs going to equipment, transport, uniforms, referees and membership fees for national organisations and sports leagues. While most university teams in the UK are able to escape the costs of pitch bookings as they have access to university-owned pitches, SOAS completely lacks grounds available for practising or playing matches on. Despite this, the Students’ Union has improved upon access to sports for students by not charging for membership to sports societies, a common feature at other universities. However, this means that only the Union is the only provider of funding for sports societies.
It is estimated that these fines have totalled almost £3000 over the past academic year, and this spending has led this year’s Students’ Union executive body to decide upon a reallocation of £3000 of the sports budget towards the new participatory budgeting scheme. Under this new scheme, proposed by Co-President for Democracy and Education Hannah Slydel, this funding will still be available for sports societies, but will be allocated in a more democratic fashion. The exact details of participatory budgeting within the SOAS Union are still being hashed out, but Slydel posited that the process would be ‘something similar to a UGM’. In total, £6,000 will be set aside for student-led initiatives and projects, which would then be voted upon by the student body in an open, democratic meeting, with Slydel commenting that ‘participatory budgeting provides a tactic for the financial decentralisation and democratization of the union’ which is ‘more exciting than it sounds’.
The Students’ Union commented that it ‘works hard to make sure all our money is spent well and goes to improving students’ lives’, with Slydel expressing an interest in improving the link between welfare and sports activities. Costs such as BUCS membership, pitch bookings and team entries to leagues are unavoidable, but the Union hopes to improve budget allocation this year so that the money ‘wasted on sports fines and missed pitches’ could be used to support a variety of societies, campaign and events, as well as bolstering the strength of sports life at SOAS through using it on matches and training.