Written by Megan Armitage, and featured Image from unsplash.com
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in early 2020, our everyday lives were drastically impacted. This included the shut-down of all University sports clubs alongside our degrees. Being away from competitive sport for such a long time has impacted the way we view our physical health and the subsequent return to sport amid a global pandemic has seen many vital changes in how University sport is run. This had let to an increase in stress and confusion, as committee’s try to implement their sport in a safe environment which still encourages returners and freshers to join for the new 20/21 academic year.
In accordance with their own NGB, University sports have seen a varied range of rules depending on whether they are a team or individual sport, or whether they take place indoors or out. This has led to both the social and competitive aspects of sport being forced to the side in favour of general fitness. For the Running and Athletics Club, the news is good, with training able to continue at a regular pace outside through social distancing. Yet, this doesn’t mean that the sport hasn’t seen a change in its delivery overall. ‘The way we have been affected the most is through the uncertainty of competition which has led to a slight lack of motivation to train. This means that club spirit and days out, which are a large part of our society, have been damaged’ (Hannah Shaw, Club Captain). This seems to be the main concern for most individual sports which are able to return to University. With morale being slighted through a lack of social entertainment, there is also a fear of how to integrate Freshers into an uncertain club environment. Jamie Hughes, Club Captain of Dodgeball, spoke about his worries in this sector as a team sport, ‘Due to the rule of 6 being implemented we are limited to 6 people per court rather than our usual 12…The challenge has been balancing bringing in new players as well as maintaining competitive training for our current members.’
‘The way we have been affected the most is through the uncertainty of competition which has led to a slight lack of motivation to train. This means that club spirit and days out, which are a large part of our society, have been damaged’Hannah Shaw, Club Captain.
Team sports such as Dodgeball and Waterpolo have been impacted severely by the rule of 6. With Waterpolo having 7 players per side, this means that training is heavily impacted when working together. The lack of a player is always a heavy burden when playing a team sport as the communication and dynamic of the full team is what aids play. When asked about how their NGB guidance has helped the club restart training again, Swolo’s President, Grace McGill stated, ‘Although Waterpolo has been slower to get up and running than Swimming, Swim England have actually been very forthcoming with information. Even when they haven’t had all the answers, they have kept the public updated.’ With the hope that clubs such as Waterpolo can resume training soon, those sports that have been given the go-ahead to train are now left wondering when Universities will have the chance to compete once more.
Luckily, British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) have recently released information about the return of competitive sport at University level. Provisional guidance states that Term 1 will see an opportunity for teams to ‘opt-in’ to play friendly matches between Universities close by. This will allow for sport to progress to the next level, through competitive play, whilst adhering to guidelines and maintaining a safe environment. Term 2 is where it gets a little more exciting, with official leagues and competitions said to resume from January onwards. Of course, where England’s position will be regarding the COVID-19 pandemic by Term 2 is still uncertain, but the hope still remains, and training can continue in light of this.
What competition will look like when it returns is still an issue. For Universities, one of the main queries is regarding Varsity. 2020 saw the cancellation of our annual Varsity week and first years were subsequently stripped of their chance to witness the Uni of Leicester gloriously beating DMU. But if Varsity can run in 2021, what will it look like? With professional sports already leading the way by competing in front of empty crowds, will a proposed live-streamed event take place, as students watch sports compete from within their own homes, or will we once again be subject to a week of ‘what could have beens’?
Team Leicester has been put under an abundance of pressure to answer these questions and to help organise the different sports teams as term starts again. Hannah Belcher, our 20/21 Sports Officer noted, ‘Unsurprisingly, we have faced some obstacles along the way and the constant change in guidance can make it difficult to make progress. But I’ve seen how hard the staff are working behind the scenes to make it all happen…not because they have to, but because they genuinely care.’ For students, this constant communication with the University and help in returning to sport is key to creating a calm and inviting society for members to return to this year, no matter what happens.
As the new term begins and the era of COVID-bound Sport creeps onto the scene, we are all worried about what this will mean for University clubs. Unfortunately, it seems, the only way we will know for sure is to keep trying our best to implement these ever-changing rules into our training and be thankful that, for now, we can continue to do the sports we love.
Megan Armitage is a final year English student and the Swim Captain at the University of Leicester. She is currently interested in pursuing a career in Sports Journalism. You can find her on Instagram here: @meg_armitage19