Oxford Can’t Stop Winning – And Cambridge Sport Must Improve

CHRIS McKEON is fed up of the light blues’ continued Varsity failures – and he believes it’s time for change.

boat race Cambridge football Oxford Rugby Sport sports centre

We have a Varsity problem – we’re losing.

Last month’s disappointment on the Tideway was just the latest instalment in what has, with a few notable exceptions, been a year to forget.

Yes, there have been some wins here and there but the Varsity story over the last decade has been increasingly written in dark blue ink. We were beaten in all four Henley Races, in the Boat Race, in Varsity Rugby Union, in Varsity Rugby League.

Boat Race disaster: Oxford's Alex Davidson holds the trophy aloft after the dark blues came out on top.

Boat Race disaster: Oxford’s Alex Davidson holds the trophy aloft after the dark blues came out on top

It’s not good enough.

So, we can either plod along, keep doing what we’re doing (which is not very much) and hope the sports centre will swing the pendulum back in our favour, or we can actually do something about it.

The latter is our only option – the sports centre will not save us.

How the new £16 million sport centre will look

How the new £16 million sport centre will look

Sure, it will be nice not to have to share our facilities and we are in dire need of a better gym than the one Fenner’s can provide us (there are better appointed college gyms – Trinity for one).

But it won’t provide us with anything we don’t already have access to. Nor will it address the much deeper problem with Cambridge sport – attitude.

To be clear, I am not for a moment questioning the attitude of our sportsmen and women.

They all work hard and they all want to win. The problem is higher up.

Take, for instance, the sports centre campaign itself. For years it floundered, the University getting planning permission but remained disinterested in raising funds for it until eventually some Hawks’ Club members took control of the project and sorted the cash. Meanwhile, Oxford are redeveloping their own, far superior, Iffley Road facilities and the University is fully behind it, making it a central project for the University’s official fundraising campaign.

It’s all a question of support. Former CUABC coach Vincent O’Shea predicted in 2009 that boxing would not last much longer at Cambridge citing a lack of University support and it’s a common criticism from just about every University-level athlete I’ve met.

Oxford celebrate another comprehensive victory in the 2013 Boxing Varsity clash.

Oxford celebrate another comprehensive victory in the 2013 Boxing Varsity clash

Even something as simple as allowing us Wednesday afternoons to compete in BUCS tournaments – like every other university in the country – is too much for them.

Oxford do far more. They support a student-run Sports Federation that provides details of scholarships (of which there are many), strength and conditioning support, fundraising support and a great deal else all in one handy location. Our own Sports Syndicate, which has very little student involvement, do…well…some administration. Despite the importance of physical exercise to the health of both body and mind, Cambridge doesn’t really care about anything but results.

The Other Place clearly do, and as things stand the better facilities, higher levels of support and recent Varsity successes make them more attractive for applicants with sporting aspirations.

Everyone benefits from a university that gets behind sport, not just those at the top. Everyone can use better facilities, access to advice and the opportunities sport provides, even at college level.

Saving Grace: Our Varsity winning football side has been the highlight of a dismal sporting year

Saving Grace: Our Varsity winning football side has been the highlight of a dismal sporting year

It just takes the University and the Colleges actually supporting their students.

But that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

The University are currently reviewing the position of sport at Cambridge – but we need those students in positions of responsibility to push for the changes we need. Or the embarrassment will continue.