Sport Writer Clara Morate speaks to committee members from UoB’s sports clubs about their time in lockdown and plans for the future
University of Birmingham (UoB) sports clubs now face an additional challenge after having to cancel and postpone all events and in-person training during the second lockdown in England. Following the end of lockdown on 2nd December, for the small remainder of term, UoB Sports will have to decide whether they are able to or even wish to run sessions. For sports that are indoors not much will have changed, as Birmingham has been recently placed into tier three. Reasons such as the logistical effort and challenges may simply deter clubs or committees from running sessions or simply the lack of interest for sessions may cause clubs to postpone further until 2021, as students begin to trickle home in the next few weeks.
UoB Gaelic Football president Eoin Campbell told Redbrick about the difficulties with maintaining team spirit without in-person socials, explaining that ‘it’s difficult to motivate people to show up for Zoom socials.’ Zoom has become a staple of a sports team in lockdown. Yet, it can be immensely draining after its initial popularity earlier this year, soon losing favour once the novelty of screen catch-ups and pub quizzes faded away.
Will Kerr, captain of the men’s first cricket team, also spoke about the difficulties surrounding the social aspect of sports during the most recent lockdown. Kerr told Redbrick that ‘the hardest thing to deal with as a club has been the lack of socials and keeping the boys together as we are a very much a hands-on club.’
The cricket team, according to Kerr, also rather sweetly, ensured that they ‘kept an eye out for each other around campus, especially within our fresher families.’ Fresher families appear to have blossomed this academic year as sports teams sought out new methods to help integrate new members and keep their teams close and motivated without being able to meet in person.
Other sports clubs like UoB windsurfing have managed to make use of Zoom in the second lockdown by running online theory classes which, according to Vice President Joe Rubens, went ‘really well.’ As useful as zoom has proved in some regards, Rubens like Campbell told Redbrick how ‘at this point the idea of another Zoom call just drives most of us mad.’ Rubens was very fair in congratulating the social secretaries of sports clubs about online socials: ‘it’s really great that they’ve kept them going for others when they signed up for committee expecting to be running parties and wild nights out.’
Gymnastics, like Windsurfing, was also able to use online events to their advantage. President Archie Belfield told Redbrick that the club had increased the amount of club training sessions to three times a week online during the second lockdown and that ‘the engagement has been great,’ making ‘planning and running the session worth it.’
Due to the implementation of the current tier system, the same approach or restrictions will not apply to all UoB sports. Some, such as Gaelic football, are potentially planning on resuming training whilst other clubs, like Gymnastics, will be unable to resume training until 2021.
Campbell told Redbrick that as a club they are undecided as to whether to resume training with ‘a significant portion who want to resume training on 4th December, but there are increasingly few people available for the dates the week after.’ The problem of people having to isolate prior to returning home is also limiting the availability and desire of students to return to sports training in the coming weeks.
Rubens’, in contrast, can resume training as soon as 3rd December as the ‘sport lends itself nicely to social distancing.’ Windsurfing has also been able to make great use of the track and trace system. They implemented the system earlier on this academic term to enable as many members to participate and enjoy Edgbaston’s reservoir which is ‘worth braving the cold.’
Although at first glance sport participation may have suffered, some sports have seen the opposite occur. Windsurfing has ‘seen a huge spike in members this year, going from a yearly average of 40-60 members, to this year’s 120.’ Rubens told Redbrick he believed this was down to a few factors, such as the club being able to acquire great deals on new beginner kit and being fortunate with ‘some incredibly keen instructors this year.’
Gaelic football, though able to resume with current tier three guidelines, has suffered in terms of participation. Campbell believes this to be due to the cancellation of the annual sports fair where the committee tends to attract a large volume of foot traffic. Without this networking event they have not seen the usual intake they would have liked to have. Another reason affecting the decline in numbers for the club is that a fair amount of their team members are from neighbouring universities such as Birmingham City University and due to the pandemic there have been logistical difficulties in granting access for non-student members.
Kerr, told Redbrick how the club maintained a steady intake of new members, as they have been ‘able to take on over 30 freshers.’ They have also retained many of their senior members due to them being a ‘close-knit club.’
Unfortunately, for indoor sports, passion alone is not sufficient to bolster membership and participation. Whilst Windsurfing was able to continue to run taster sessions into the month of October, clubs like Gymnastics were forced to halt on 14th October. Belfield, Gymnastics captain, said that ‘from the sessions that do go ahead, there seemed to be a lot of interest,’ and that ‘the engagement with the online session from both new and old members has been brilliant.’
To add another layer of apprehension for sports clubs in 2020, BUCS, sports competitions run nationally by the governing body British Universities and Colleges Sport, are still set to run in early 2021. For UoB Cricket, the BUCS indoor tournament was cancelled before the start of this academic year, which Kerr described as a ‘shame considering we have come third and fourth nationally the last two years running.’ He hopes, however, that outdoor cricket events will be able to resume this upcoming summer or that cricket will adapt and cater to the circumstances.
The pandemic has caused plenty of financial challenges for sports clubs. Campbell told Redbrick how this year Gaelic Football would have to rent a coach rather than a minibus, which ‘is very frustrating as a small club to try to manage an expense like that,’ particularly when they pride themselves on being ‘one of the cheapest sports clubs to join’ at UoB.
Meanwhile, Belfield is slightly daunted by the upcoming BUCS calendar due to having ‘lost spatial awareness and seen a decline in skill and routine performance.’ Despite his concerns, Belfield is optimistic for the future. The club’s main goal, instead of primarily focusing on BUCS, will be ‘to get back enjoying training gymnastics.’ From there, he hopes to ‘build our BUCS’ in time for early February.
Windsurfing has a slightly more promising chance for their BUCS equivalent event run by the SWA (Student Windsurf Association) to be permitted to run in 2021.
There does seem to be hope for UoB sports in the foreseeable future. With the promise of a vaccine and quicker COVID-19 test, all sports may be able to return to normal quicker than previously imagined.
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