Varsity 2013: What’s The Point?

Snobbery, jealousy and abuse risk spoiling University rivalries

In less than two weeks, Bristol and UWE will go head to head in the year’s first of many Varsity matches.

There’s a visceral thrill to competitive sport, but derbies and grudge matches take the ‘c-word’ to an entirely new level. Just look at the Manchester derby – pre-match mind games, leg-breaking tackles, trouble in the stands. None of which can really be condoned.

Given the problems often caused by sporting rivalries, should we really be embracing it at University level?

The ‘Varsity’ name comes from the rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge, two intellectual and sporting heavyweights with a fierce history of rivalry. In comparison, there is relatively little history between Bristol and UWE, and so the rivalry often descends into unhealthy mudslinging.

The Boat Race: Britain’s biggest sporting rivalry?
Photo: Henry Lawford

Bristol is stronger academically, but this often leads to the ‘banter’ of the grudge match morphing into an ugly superiority complex, despite positions in the University league tables having no impact in the field of sport.

Last year, UWE won the Varsity matches in several high-profile sports including American Football and Netball (But not in the Rowing or Rugby as originally stated – Ed). Any sporting snobbery from Bristol is clearly misplaced, as is the default ‘at least we go to a proper uni’ defence in the face of defeat.

Intense rivalries even exist within the university. Motivated by ego and testosterone, the rugby team compete with the football and hockey teams in everything from recent results to the ‘team spirit’ demonstrated at socials.

Even intramural sport has its rivalries and grudge matches. Prominent subjects and societies like Law pride themselves on performances against other ‘intramural heavyweights’ such as the Medics or Engineers, as if a sporting victory validates their choice of degree.

Similarly, in the bubble of Stoke Bishop, the ‘rich boys and girls’ of Wills Hall are the team everyone wants to beat, the only match capable of attracting spectators beyond the respective substitute benches. (As someone whose friends still talk about UH’s 10-5 victory over Wills from my first year I can vouch for this – Ed)

Wills Hall: The panto villains of intramural sport

Rivalries are a big part of sport. They don’t have to be a bad thing – the sense of competition often provokes better levels of performance from the participants, and that can only be a positive.

Despite this, sporting spirit mustn’t become lost at the expense of unrelated aggression and insecurities. Competition should be celebrated, but there’s no need to get caught up in proving you’re better than the rest.