The Background To The Sports Complex

LAUREN YORK charts the trials and tribulations of Cambridge’s longest running saga.

hawks' club ian ralby sports centre sports complex

Today’s news will come as a relief for those who have been following the drawn out saga of the sports centre.

The problem largely stems from the collegiate system; as colleges were established one by one, they catered for the sporting requirements of their own students.

This bred an uneven system where colleges such as St John’s were able to offer enviable facilities, smaller colleges struggled, and University athletes were left out of the picture altogether.

Some clubs such as the Rugby and Rowing and Hockey clubs developed effective networks of alumni whose donations have allowed them to build, maintain and own private facilities.

Those without the support of old boys and sponsors have struggled, as the University failed to step in and fund the shortfall. There has simply never been a comprehensive, topdown approach to providing for many sportsmen and women who represent Cambridge in matches and competitions around the country.

The idiosyncrasy was highlighted in 1973 by Michael McCrum, the Master of Corpus Christi, and has been on and off the University’s agenda ever since.

Between 1995 and 1998, plans were drawn up by the University and a local developer for a new sports centre to be built in West Cambridge. The land was acquired the following year and by 2000 the centre had been granted planning permission.

This flurry of activity was followed by a decade of stalemate. Progress has remained slow, with the University concentrating on rejuvenating their science facilities, extending housing for staff and post grads.

Despite influential voices such as Kelly Holmes, Cambridge MP Julian Huppert and Olympian Andrew Baddeley lending their voices to the campaign, the target of £50 million was widely dismissed as excessive.

In true Cambridge style the proposal got lost somewhere between endless committees.

During the 800th year fundraising campaign, donors who wished to remember their time on the pitch rather than in the lab were told that the closest that their cash would get to the abandoned project would be to fund ‘unspecified causes’ which might or might not be sport-related.

This week’s development marks a turning point, arguably the biggest since this campaign began.

No one has previously committed themselves to seeing the project through.

The location of the West Cambridge site.

Hopefully with a Vice Chancellor who is a keen sports fan himself and  who oversaw the expansion of sports facilities at Imperial College London, the plans have a chance of getting off the ground.

As one Blues swimmer told me yesterday, “Cambridge has waited an awful long time for this”.