By Holly Sampson (BA Middle Eastern Studies and World Philosophies)
This year sees the introduction of our new sports officers, Sophie and Danny. We sat down with them to discuss what sports has in store for this year…
What are your aims and objectives?
Sophie: In terms of planning our aims and objectives for the year, Danny and I did not want to give pointless aims and objectives, so we will only have an aim if we have an action plan to support it. For example: one of our biggest aims is accessibility, so what we have done for sports like badminton and football is to try to include non-competitive aspects. For example, our badminton team plays in BUCS and LUSL but there’s also recreational badminton. So to be involved you do not have to be involved competitively. We also try to do that with mixed hockey. We play in a very casual 7-a-side league on a Thursday night against other local London teams. So it’s about having two parts to our sport: the social and recreational aspect, and the competitive aspect where we represent our university.
Danny: I think one of the main things that increases accessibility when it comes to joining a team is that we have banned the word ‘initiation’; we don’t have any initiations at SOAS. I know at other universities across the country there have been cases where players, who should obviously be playing first team, can’t get on to the team because they refuse to do the initiation. So that’s another thing about pushing accessibility here at SOAS. Anyone can play sport, you don’t have to do any crazy initiation or change the way you act.
Sophie: Further to the accessibility, we also want to make the off-pitch events accessible as well. We will have sports socials and sports nights. Some of them will be designated dry spaces, some will not be. The point is that they will not revolve around drinking. So it won’t be ‘come to the JCR and play beer pong’; it will be ‘come and play zorb football’ or ‘netball versus basketball’. If you want to go and have a drink afterwards, feel free. The point is to allow you to be a full participant without drinking. We think it is important for people to enjoy themselves on and off the pitch, and whether you drink or not should not impact your ability to participate in SOAS sport, just as your religion, race or gender doesn’t.
What are you doing to improve the quality of sports at SOAS?
Sophie: We’ve done lots! Firstly, we’ve ordered brand new kit for every team and this will unify our teams. We’ve redesigned all the stash as well. We have some really nice leggings, tracksuit bottoms, shorts, polos, quarter zips. We’ve gone all out on kit so our presentation has been improved. In terms of logistics, we have tried to make it as accommodating as possible in terms of where all the teams play. I think the biggest achievement is that we have moved all the men’s football games to Market Road or Whittington Park, which means instead of travelling 45 minutes to a home game, travel is 10 to 15 minutes from SOAS. For me that improves the quality of sport because it improves accessibility. If you can get to SOAS you can get to your game, most people can probably get there for free if you have a bike. That is a big aspect of it for us. I would say those are the big changes we’ve made so far, but we are open to ideas and feedback for things sports is currently lacking – we are always looking to improve. Also in terms of equipment, we are ordering loads of new sports equipment for all the new societies and making sure they are all ready to go for their first games next week.
What is varsity?
Sophie: On a wider sport level, Varsity is traditionally a longstanding rivalry between two institutions. For SOAS, it is SOAS versus London Met. Last year was our first year. Actually, I’ve just come from a meeting now about Varsity with London Met. We will be playing them at pretty much every sport we do, with a few exceptions. We’ll play them at Rugby, Basketball, Volleyball, Netball, Football and Badminton. The only official sport we don’t play at Varsity is Hockey. It is going to take place on the provisional dates of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the last week of February. SOAS will host the warm up party the Wednesday before and London Met will host the closing party afterwards. It’s basically a time to showcase our best athletes, and to come together with a London university. It’s a bit of healthy competition and something for teams to work towards.
What benefits do you think Varsity brings about for sport here at SOAS?
Danny: I feel that varsity was a great great thing to come out of SOAS sport last year. For me it was the fact that loads of people within SOAS sport, and some people who don’t do sport, could come and watch people play. For example, the first match, the rugby match, which was hosted in the evening had a crowd of SOAS people in the stands. It may not seem like much but to the players on the pitch that means a lot, and that was simply people bringing their friends along to support SOAS. It was great to see!
Sophie: I think for me one of the big benefits of varsity is the sense of teamwork and cohesion it brings within your own team, because you really band together to smash London Met! I think it’s fantastic in terms of a goal to work towards and bringing your team together.
What support do the SU provide in terms of funding and acquiring space for your events?
Sophie: The SOAS Student Union is incredibly supportive of all of our sports teams. They support us both financially and with the time they give us. As most people are aware SOAS, unlike other universities, don’t own their own pitches so the majority of our budget goes on booking pitches and hiring umpires, refs and coaches. If you take a look at the SOAS SU website, our SU budget is open for everybody so you can see all of our accounts. The amount we spend on pitch bookings may seem disproportionately large, but without it we literally couldn’t function. It’s important to remember when looking at the budget that the amount we spend on something is not proportionate to the amount we value it. Take the welfare budget, which I believe is approximately £4,000. If we are running a campaign you may not need that much financial assistance, you may need to simply make banners and print leaflets. However, there is a high volume of man hours that go into that. Hiring rooms at SOAS is free but for sport, in order to do the basic function, we need to buy footballs, book pitches and book refs and that is already hundreds of pounds. So when people look at it and criticise how much we spend on sport, it is important to note that a pound doesn’t represent a worth so to speak. Furthermore, in terms of how they support us with space, in terms of room bookings for our sports socials, Ian Cole and Mehdi are very helpful. We’ve just been planning varsity this morning and ‘This Girl Can’ Week and they’re really on board with supporting it.
Are SOAS sports affordable?
Sophie: I would argue SOAS Sport is one of the most affordable universities to play sport at. Unlike most other universities, all we charge is a £15 base charge and for that you can play as many sports as you like. You can be a part of one team or five teams. The way this works is that this covers the insurance, so if something were to happen to you, you would be covered by SOAS. It also contributes to pitch hire, minibus hire for far away games and the new kit we provide. This has to be paid by the 31st October. Obviously if you join later you can pay later. In terms of where we train, we tried to make it as local as possible to as many people as possible. Training is all central, or slightly North London, so that you can get there for free by cycling or walking, or it is within Zone 1 or 2. If anyone is struggling with the costs of university, in particular the cost of playing sport, we would hate for this to be an inhibiting factor so speak with Danny, Ian Cole or me and we can work something out. Sport at SOAS doesn’t mean that if you can’t afford it, you can’t participate – that’s not how we work at SOAS.
Funniest sporting moment…
Danny: Funniest sporting moment…oh goodness…I think it would have to be when I was 10 years old – I lived in Thailand at the time. My football team made the final of a big tournament and were playing against a team from Bangkok. It was 0-0 and the last kick of the game, and we were defending manically. I had my head down running back to defend as fast as I could when a friend on my team passed the ball to me. I wasn’t looking and kicked it mid stride. The goal was perfect, an absolute screamer, top corner… But obviously it was into my team’s goal. They ended up winning gold and I ended up crying after the match for like half a day. So yeah that’s probably my funniest sporting moment… Haha so sad….