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A year that changed the face of sport: in conversation with AU Officer Maggie Elstob

Written by Sport, Sport Features

Sports Editor Rebecca Johnson talks to outgoing AU Officer Maggie Elstob about varsity, BUCS Nationals and all things sport

So, just to start off with, how’s your year as AU Officer been? Was it what you expected it to be?
I’ve had a really good year, not without its challenges. I guess knowing what students are like it’s what I expected. There’s been not quite as much opportunity to be really involved in sport as I would’ve liked. I’ve taken those opportunities where there’s been some, but there’s been a lot of things to do with the Students’ Union and the sabbatical side of the role that I maybe didn’t quite expect as much.

Brilliant, so do you think that you’ve managed to fulfill the majority of your manifesto points this year?
Not anywhere as near as many as I would’ve liked to. I think in hindsight I would probably advise anybody going forward in an election to make a few points that you think you’ll definitely be able to do. I’ve done a couple of them (well more than I couple- I can barely remember what was on it now!) but I think because of how busy it is to run sport, you don’t actually end up getting that free time to do those projects that you wanted to do. But I’ve done a few, the ones that I was really keen on fulfilling included the GoodGym partnership, we’ve done more training for welfare officers, I’ve also overseen the development of the new facilities and been really involved in that. I think it’s been a good year and I think I’ve been productive, but there’s definitely a lot of other things that if I had another go at that I’d like to do.

Maggie’s role has included organising and hosting the AU Awards at the AU Ball
Image: NUSU

Is there anything in particular if you had another year that you’d really like to chip away at?
I think looking into gym membership, but that is actually being looked at for when the new facilities open. There is a review of membership going on, so I think that if I were the next AU Officer or the one after that I would be able to have a good go at it, or look at doing something different that works for more people. I would quite like to do more of the alumni talks and getting some sporting people in.
But again, it’s all about timing and you don’t realise from the outside how much work is involved with actually just getting people out to fixtures every Wednesday and people who can compete on a weekend, plus all of your sabbatical officer stuff. You don’t really get as much time as you would like to do all the things that you really wanted to do when you wrote that manifesto. There’s loads more things that I would want to do if I had another go or had a second term, but I don’t know how much energy I’d have for that!

Coming onto the next point, Stan Calvert [Maggie laughs]. What was the process that took place which ultimately decided that Stan Calvert wouldn’t go ahead this year?
In recent years it’s been losing momentum, with cuts to Northumbria (I feel like I’ve got this rehearsed!) [Both laugh], with cuts to Northumbria’s BUCS programme and the rules stating that you could only enter teams if you had BUCS teams entered in that sport and at those levels, and obviously as they reduced their teams that reduced our fixtures – we’ve probably got twice the amount of BUCS teams that they have now. The point of Stan Calvert was that, originally, it was all about participation, and for us that wasn’t really hitting that target. So we had some consultations with clubs between myself and the performance manager, and the University went round quite a lot of the clubs at Freshers’ Fair and asked them what they thought.
I said I would have absolutely gone ahead with it if they wanted to do it, but that’s just not what we got back. We got back about two or three of the clubs that we consulted that they wanted to take it forward. I said I’m not going to make students do something that they don’t want to do. We’ve got such a big BUCS programme now that in terms of timing it would have been difficult getting it done, that February/March time really doesn’t work with the BUCS programme because it’s when everybody’s got playoffs and finals, so we’d have needed to do it probably before Christmas, getting a central venue that we could have as many of the fixtures at as possible, getting those fixtures played over as short an amount of time as possible. Last year marked 25 years of Stan Calvert and, having consulted with clubs, it needed somebody to say, “okay, let’s just put a pause on this, have a look at it and explore all the options”. Because so many other universities do it in different ways, we must be able to find something in here that works but right now there’s no point in doing this if students don’t want to do it. We then informed Northumbria and then it all came out in the wash!

So would you say that you could see Stan Calvert return, maybe not next year, but definitely in the future, maybe as a rebranded package?
I think it’s completely up to next year’s AU Officer and the year after’s what direction they want to take it. It would be a shame not to have a varsity, but equally I think the appetite needs to be there from students. It needs to be students knocking on our door saying “this is what we want to do”. A couple of clubs had fixtures against Northumbria this year, but I didn’t really have anybody come to me and say “we’re really desperate to make this a varsity”. That was the main thing that made the decision for me; the student interest and enthusiasm weren’t there – it needs that because otherwise it won’t work even if you put it on. I’d like to see a varsity return in some way to Newcastle; in my first year it was a really great part of my year and I’d love other people to be able to have that experience. But it’s got to be right and we’ve got to research it.

Brilliant. A couple of lighter questions now – what’s been your favourite sporting moment of this season?
I probably couldn’t put a finger on it, I’ve seen so many fixtures on Wednesdays of people putting out really good performances. Even at intra-mural level; I saw a penalty shoot-out of the final of an intra-mural football league that was really good to watch. I’ve watched many a win from our clubs which has been nice. The Boat Race of the North was a real highlight for me and really good fun. Going across to BUCS Big Wednesday and BUCS Nationals and seeing one of our badminton ladies and one of our swimmers bring back some medals was really impressive – and great to see that we’re competing at that kind of level. I couldn’t put a finger on it because it’s so varied, I’ve played my own fixtures and we’ve had some really good and really meaningful wins this year. As a sports person, I’m going to be diplomatic – I couldn’t put my finger on it!

Fair enough! Are there any individuals or teams who have stood out this year to you? Maybe ones who you didn’t initially expect to but you’ve sort of fallen in love with them?
[Laughs] Erm, gosh there are definitely clubs who I’ve really gotten on well with this year. Across the board I’ve had a pretty good relationship with them. I think my own club, netball, really helped me get this job so I’m always going to have a tie to them. I’ve worked quite a lot with women’s lacrosse this year and I really like the ethos that they’ve brought into the club, same with ladies’ hockey. Men’s rugby and men’s football have been really helpful with various projects this year. Dance club have been great, cheerleading have brought back some really awesome results. Across the board we’ve just had a really successful year and I’ve really enjoyed working with the clubs that I’ve worked with.

Brilliant, and to finish off with, what bit of advice would you give to your successor, Joe, next year?
To take as many of the sporting opportunities that you can and to throw yourself headlong into it. Essentially, that’s why you’ve gone for this job, because you’re interested in sport. So go out every Wednesday and watch the clubs, I did my best at that but obviously as I was competing myself on a Wednesday, I didn’t always get to see as much as I would’ve liked – whereas Joe plays ice hockey in the evenings so he should have a bit more of an opportunity to go out on a Wednesday.
It matters to the clubs that you’ve gone out and you’ve watched, seen and acknowledged them. I’ve tried to do a results roundup in my weekly email this year and I noticed that clubs started to draw more significance to certain results when they sent them in, adding “this is a meaningful win” or “this player played really well”, and they were noticing that I was recognising them and supporting them. Going to things like Big Wednesday where we had three teams in finals and nationals where we had athletes across all of the sports – so all of the clubs that could have been entered in them were entered and got some good results. I’ve worked closely with Joe this year because he’s been on my executive committee – my biggest piece of advice would be to take every chance of the sporting side of it, because that’s why you’ve put yourself forward for this job and that’s the best part of it.

Last modified: 4th July 2019

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