A ‘new normal’ for university sport

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by Maxwell Livesey, 3rd Year Law

Finding a ‘new normal’ for sport in the midst of a pandemic is an uncertain task. Without the funding and capabilities to test players regularly as has been done with the Premier League restart or to create an NBA-style ‘bubble’, universities are left with the uphill challenge of finding a balance between keeping students safe whilst allowing them to play.

Sport at the University of Bristol is a fundamental part of university life for a large number of students, giving them the opportunity to make friends whilst being beneficial for their physical and mental health.

With most teams training multiple times a week and Wednesdays dedicated to matches and socials, incoming Freshers will be eager to know what impact Covid-19 is going to have on their ability to take part in sports.

In BUCS’ ‘Return to Play’ statement on September 3 they announced that although the Leagues and Knockout programme will not commence in term one, there will be ‘an opt-in competition with regional leagues’.

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BUCS have stressed that this ‘opt-in competition’ will focus on fun and participating instead of on performance, and there will therefore be no rewards associated with the matches being played. Regardless, the opportunity for competitive sport during a time filled with endless safety measures and restrictions is an exciting prospect for returning and incoming students alike.

Sadly for students, the Government’s announcement on September 9 that from September 14 social gatherings would be limited to six people prevents sports societies from organising socials for the ‘foreseeable future’.

Although organised sports are exempt from this rule and are scheduled to go ahead at the University, measures are being taken to control the spread of Covid-19 and keep students safe.

The SU are committed to supporting sports clubs to continue to offer the best possible experience for their members, whilst keeping members safe and complying with the prevailing government guidance.

The SU and SEH expect clubs to hold Covid-safe versions of their training. For some sports, this will mean that trainings remain relatively similar to before the pandemic, however sports with higher degrees of physical contact may have restrictions on contact and/or how many students can train in proximity.

Another benefit of online socials is that everyone’s pockets will remain that little bit fuller.

Rushab Shah, Bristol SU Sport and Student Development Officer, said, ‘Sport is a big part of many students' university experience and whilst it might look a bit different this year I hope that people will continue to get involved with their club or try something new.

The use of online platforms, such as Zoom, for communicating and socialising will play a significant role in sport this term as they have already done over summer. Societies will not only have to recruit freshers and promote themselves through the University’s virtual Freshers’ Fair but will also have to plan online socials to replace clubbing and house parties.

Virtual socials are likely to be the unfortunate reality for term one, or at least until measures on social gatherings are lifted. However, after the long periods of time spent in lockdown throughout the summer, social secs are likely to have a few Zoom pub quizzes and other activities planned for Wednesday sports nights. Another benefit of online socials is that everyone’s pockets will remain that little bit fuller.

One sports team that has had to change their approach to trainings, matches and socials is the University of Bristol Basketball Club.

University of Bristol Basketball Club 

Try-outs, which usually attract hundreds of people, have been separated out across multiple sessions to limit the number of people using University facilities.

Further, the number of players on each of the men’s and women’s squad will also be reduced so that trainings can continue to go ahead, as the Basketball Team sets its sights on playing friendlies against universities within the region, such as the University of Bath and Cardiff University.

Lockdown sports series: Men’s Football

Sammy Cobbold, President of the University of Bristol Basketball Club, says that one positive outcome of the smaller squad sizes is that there will be ‘more attention from coaches and opportunities for individual development.’

As other sports around the University are likely to take similar precautions and measures, students should take comfort in knowing that everything that can be done to allow sports to continue is being done.

Lockdown sports series: Women's Rugby

Unfortunately, in an everchanging scenario we can only make predictions as to how sport will look this year at university, and by the time this article is published the rules may have already changed.

The current picture of ‘new normal’ certainly lacks the elements of excitement and anticipation one would usually associate with novelty. We can all only hope that this ‘new normal’ is a just a ‘temporary normal’.

Featured image: University of Bristol Volleyball Club


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