In her first column of the year, former Athletic Union Officer Clara Pettitt explores the ups, the downs and the difficulties she faced when organising the annual Stan Calvert varsity competition.
Stan Calvert: two words that have been raised not so infrequently in the media recently. The topic reaching multiple social media platforms, making local news and even the staffroom at work. Despite understanding the wide range of viewpoints, it seems only right that I say my piece:
For me, I fully support the decision of suspending the varsity, not only has it become physically and mentally exhausting for everyone involved in the organising process, but there comes a time when a novelty stagnates. 25 years seems like a great point to stop, pause and think about how the competition can be regenerated.
I had the pleasure of helping to organise the competition last year, whilst it was a great honour and I am proud to have done so, it would be fictitious to hide away from the stress that it caused the organisers on both sides. It disheartens me to think that this should in fact be one of the biggest varsities in the country, the universities have finished within 2 places of each other in the BUCS points table for 3 years running, but the final score doesn’t seem to reflect that… So what is going wrong?
I believe it is largely due to the rules and regulations that the competition has in place. A few years ago the Stan Calvert rules changed to say that an event can only take place if both sides have a team competing in BUCS. Idealistically this sounds like a great approach, however with Northumbria and Newcastle having different BUCS strategies - Northumbria focusing on less sports to a high level - this immediately decreases the participation level.
When questioning this approach to Northumbria and suggesting to add in some sports that they don’t enter teams into BUCS, I was told that this is the only way a competition can be run fairly, since they follow the BUCS rules. A questionable answer that dominated any discussions nonetheless, therefore the approach followed again in 2018.
Whilst there are many sports that do cross over, in most team sports there are different numbers of teams entered into BUCS from each University, likewise in individual sports there may be someone competing from each University but not in the same event. This wdecreases the participation levels further.
I don’t believe that this is the only reason, the time of year that the competition takes place has significant effects on participation. Last year both hockey teams and men’s football had no choice but to pull out due to the amount of BUCS and local fixtures they had to play over a short space of time. This was caused by unforeseen weather conditions, however with Stan Calvert taking place at the end of the BUCS season, it is no longer a priority for our performance sports since their need to complete their BUCS season and local fixtures is much higher. Not to add the fact that many of them have already played Northumbria in their league anyway.
Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of varsity, in fact one the main reasons I ran for AU Officer was because my sport was not fully represented in Stan Calvert. Three years ago we had the final event, where there was a great atmosphere, but the longest distance for women to compete in was 400m, I have as much chance of winning a 400m race as I would a Volleyball match. A simple answer would be to run all events that one or the other team competes in BUCS and if either can’t field a team a walkover is awarded, however with that being suggested, like anything, it’s not that simple.
Reading various comments in the media, many may think that it is the lack of awareness that is the fundamental issue. Many people did not know about the event last year but I don’t believe that this was due to poor advertising nor the many reason for the disinterest, the lack of awareness spirals from the undefined structure and the time of year of the competition, with less and less people taking part to spread the word. With Northumbria pulling even more teams out of BUCS this year, it would have been a task of high demand to continue the competition in the current structure, in my opinion an agreement needs to be made on a set of new rules which don’t necessarily follow BUCS rules for a finite number of sports. I am more than supportive of the break from the event which I hope will be reformed and a great success in the future.