As Sarah Thompson approaches the end of her year as Athletic Union President, the general consensus is that it has been a successful term. Her policy of “collaboration, communication, evelopment”, primarily geared towards the increased presence of the ‘Saints Sport’, seems to have largely paid off, minor glitches aside.
Popularisation of sport
As someone who “didn’t do sport at school”, the experience of university sport made a big impact on Ms Thompson. She ran on the policy that sport in St Andrews should not be the sole preserve of the ‘sporty’ but should be for everyone to enjoy.
A year ago, she said that “we should be promoting an idea of Saints Sport being something that everyone can be involved in, regardless of being involved in a club or not”. Initiatives such as the weekday “Night Lights” matches, whereby clubs self-consciously advertise important BUCS matches as evening ‘events’ rather than mere fixtures, have been well. Where Night Lights events were only staged by a few clubs before Ms Thompson’s presidency, they are now commonplace across most major sports.
Another key aim, and success, of Ms Thompson’s has been the strengthening of club alumni networks. It does indeed seem that alumni of many clubs have reintegrated themselves in a way they had not before. The Football Club actually devoted an entire weekend to their alumni at the end of last season, staging matches all weekend and ultimately a Club ball replete with a nostalgia-laden auction.
Yet it is not just the major sports whose alumni networks have flourished in the past year; many smaller clubs have also reached out to the past in a way they hadn’t before. The president of the Water Polo club has recently spoken about how its founding students – who made water polo goals from abandoned fishing nets on West Sands – only recently returned to visit the Club, many of whose members weren’t even born when those fishing nets were picked up some twenty years ago.
The final aspect of Thompson’s overarching policy, ‘development’, is also flourishing. The redeveloped sports centre is set to open in January 2016 and the proposals promise enhanced facilities as well as a more user-friendly Sports Centre. Although some may feel that the £5million outlay is too steep, the proposals seem sufficiently long-term to justify the initial cost.
Perhaps the only obvious negative has been the problems with sports team kits. Irish sportswear company O’Neills were brought in to replace the ageing Kukri brand last summer, with many clubs complaining that the Kukri kit was too easily torn and not versatile enough. Yet O’Neills themselves failed to deliver on kit, with the lack of waterproof training tops a particularly glaring flaw. Students’ current kit is therefore an odd mix of Kukri and O’Neills, with neither fit for purpose. In fairness to Ms Thompson, there is little she could have done – O’Neills were formally warned several times over failed deliveries – and they have since been dropped as kit provider as of next academic year. A black mark on Ms Thompson’s tenure, yes, but one that more coincides with it than truly reflects it.
The Saint’s aassessment
Overall, Ms Thompson can look back happily on her year as AU president, with her policies largely fruitful. Although many of them are too long-term to have yet been fully realised, this is only in virtue of their sheer ambition. For Ms Thompson, sport is not just about winning or losing but is a real force for good. Regardless of whether or not Ms Thompson’s ambitions are ultimately fully realised, such an attitude remains hugely admirable. If she re-runs for presidency therefore, there is nothing to suggest she won’t – or shouldn’t – retain it.