We are not a sporting university; our performance at Varsity showed that emphatically. Nonetheless, our Wednesday afternoons see the sports pitches packed with players but relatively barren in terms of supporters, despite the fact that the majority of students find themselves without class.
Maybe I am spoilt in terms of time to kill as an Ancient History student; however, there certainly seems to be a distinct lack of interest from students, myself included, in the actual performance of our university on the sports field, even though the University has over 100 teams copmeting annually in the BUCS, SSS and cup competitions. Perhaps we are all simply too busy appreciating the beauty of the medieval town and our Starbucks coffees and, thus, feel like the Herculean trek to the sports centre from town simply is not worth it.
Until Professor Mapstone masters the art of teleportation, it seems like this issue will continue and thus, surely, the University must do more to incentivise students to actually come and support their friends and classmates on Wednesday afternoons. Many of us come from schools where the first XV Rugby team would have seen almost the entire school out on their side lines on match days cheering them on, whereas here at St Andrews it seems like we are lucky to have 20 supporters, and of them at least half are simply injured players from the team actually on the pitch! There is clearly an issue with the entire ethos of this University when it comes to sport.
At risk of having my AU membership torn up before my eyes, I would tentatively suggest that our university simply doesn’t do enough to encourage the students to get out and support or even play in competitive sports during their time here. The £160 Fitness+ Membership is certainly a significant factor in deterring participation in sports here, as well as the aforementioned Odyssey required to actually reach the sports centre from the centre of town. One can hope that this cost is the bare minimum required to fund our sports facilities here, and maybe it would be foolish to hope for much change in that regard; however it certainly does seem like a significant barrier to entry to students who want to do some sport here without wanting to fully sign up to a competitive sports club. If the University cannot do any more to encourage students to participate in sports, despite all the known mental and physical benefits of exercise and playing as a team, it should at least do its best to encourage students to take a break from their essays and go out to enjoy the fine weather and the (sometimes) high-quality, sporting performances on show, down St Leonard’s Road.
This isn’t to say that the University never sees any sports events well-supported, the Rugby Sevens last summer was a fantastic event as was the Varsity Match and it was notable how little the spectators seemed to mind the score. There is, however, a notable difference between these events and the regular BUCS fixtures that take place at the sports centre, and it is a difference which this writer believes is the most significant reason for the lack of enthusiasm for watching sport on Wednesday afternoons. That reason is the AU’s alcohol ban. We know there is a blanket ban of alcohol on university property, however this still seems like an obvious place to allow an exception. Telling a student to come and watch an hour or two of rugby after a 20 minute walk to reach there may be difficult, telling them, however, that they can watch the match with their friends and a couple of Tennent’s finest might just swing them over the edge and change their mind about coming to watch. Rather than the sometimes cringeworthy attempts from sports coaches to make their teams stay behind to watch the remaining fixtures, a genuine effort from the University to encourage a more social aspect to spectating may work wonders in terms of pushing up the numbers on the side lines.
You cannot force people to watch, but you can make changes so that people actually want to watch. We know the University doesn’t want drunken scenes on the side of our pitches, however, it seems like the events where alcohol is allowed for the spectators are the best supported events of the year, whereas regular Wednesday afternoons have very poor attendance. The ideal situation for the University would be to change the entire ethos of the students and encourage them to support their university out of a communal sense of pride and camaraderie. For now, however, the best bet would be to simply allow spectators to enjoy themselves a bit more and see if the mentality can change on its own.