Squash Club challenge University over facilities

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The University of St Andrews Squash Club is currently engaged in an ongoing dispute with the University Sports Centre over the non-provision of squash courts. The Squash Club’s view is that the Sports Centre have failed to make good on promises to build new courts, after the removal of its only two courts in 2013. In the spring of 2013, the fitness suite at the Sports Centre was expanded in place of these two courts. The Sport’s Centre’s current stance is that the provision of new courts is not possible owing to both student demand for an expanded fitness suite, as well as spending limitations.

In the two years since the Sports Centre’s two courts were torn down, the Squash Club has instead used courts at East Sands Leisure Centre and on St Leonard’s Road; neither of which are affiliated with the University. Squash Club President, Isabella Penney, says that this decision (to use non-University courts) was made only once the Club was told the two Sports Centre courts were to be torn down, and hence believed there was no choice but to relocate. Penney elaborates that when the University courts were torn down in 2013, the Squash Club were “repeatedly” informed by Peter Burgon, Club Development Manager, and Ian Gaunt, Assistant Director, that such an action was a “temporary measure” until renovations to expand the Sports Centre were made.

In email correspondence with Penney, the Sports Centre’s Director of Sport and Exercise, Stephen Stewart, claims – a claim Penney describes as “absurd” – that “the Squash Club themselves made the decision to play all matches from East Sands Leisure Centre, initially, I think, at their cost”.

Stewart further states that the recent decision not to replace the two University-run courts was “not taken lightly”, but was made because of the “increasing numbers of students wanting to use our (the Sports Centre’s) fitness suite”, as well as spending limitations. Additionally, Stewart states that the courts themselves had been “poorly constructed”, with walls made from plaster of “poor quality” and external walls with “no insulation”. Thirdly, Stewart states that the recent decision to not build new courts was drawn up “in consultation with the AU”; the AU being the student-run body representing student sports clubs at the University.

Penney, in contrast, states that the Sports Centre “completely neglected the needs of the Squash Club” in a manner that was both “unacceptable and undemocratic”. Penney further states that “after requesting to meet with representatives from the sports centre, the Club were told that it was ‘not economically beneficial’ for the Club to have courts of its own”, and, further, that “the Club ‘didn’t compete highly enough’ to even deserve courts of its own”.

On a basic level, there is a clash between two incompatible views. One is the view that all of Saints Sport’s clubs deserve equal, individual consideration. The other is the view that the overall health of Saints Sport is what matters, even if this means some clubs aren’t given equal individual consideration. Yet the crux of the dispute seems to be this: namely, that it is possible to argue fitness facilities are not sports facilities at all, and yet equally possible to argue that fitness facilities can benefit each and every sports club in a way squash courts can’t. Fitness facilities can be viewed simply as leisure facilities, but insofar as fitness is beneficial for all sports, they can be viewed as facilities with the potential to benefit each and every sports club, too.

What is certain is that Saint Sport will continue to cover the cost of at least some squash provision for registered Squash Club members at East Sands Leisure Centre, even though East Sands Leiasure Centre is not University-affiliated. He also doesn’t rule out the possiblity that “once the current project is complete, other facility investments may be possible. This would be subject to a successful fundraising campaign. If this was the case, provision of two squash courts may be possible”. But what is also certain is that, given the Sports Centre redevelopment project isn’t set to finish until at least 2017, such speculation means little to a Squash Club who – like any other – simply want to play.

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