Sussex has always talked a good game. Indeed, there has been action to back up to the talk too in the shape of the state-of-the-art Jubilee building and the expansion of the vast Northfield Accommodation, providing evidence to the case that Sussex is a university with ambition.
I’m sure the swelling in student numbers hasn’t gone unnoticed either, particularly for those of us who pop to the Co-op merely intending to buy a bagel.
The University intends to increase the student population to 18,000 by 2018. This would mean a phenomenal jump in population of around 40% from the 2011 population.
So there’s proven commitment to expanding the student body and improving academic study but what about the university’s commitment to Sports?
It just so happens, that while the tape was being cut outside the Jubilee building, the Students’ Union and the Sports Development department at Sussex Sport had to face the reality that this year would be the first time ever that they would not be able to accommodate any new sports clubs, big or small.
There could also be no increase in funding given to any existing club.
Twenty-one Sports Clubs are fully funded (though it should be remembered mens’ & womens’ teams count separately) by the Students’ Union and now, at a time when Sussex is determined to pack the rafters high with Freshers, there is no more room at the inn.
There are further part-funded or even non-funded clubs called development clubs, which are affiliated with the Union and aiming to become full clubs in the future in order to help subsidise their clubs.
At present, members of development clubs must pay to cover everything the club does, which for the new American Football team, represents a cost of around £70 each for a years membership, despite the fact that the club has been seeing training attendances of around 70 people.
Unfortunately though, the well is well and truly dry. Sport is allocated around £40,000 – £50,000 per year from the Student’s Union’s block budget, a paltry sum given the funding clubs require to operate.
Considering it is estimated that the Union spent around £30,000 of that money on transporting Sport’s teams to and from BUCS matches alone, that budget is painfully thin.
Sussex Sport is under similar financial constrictions. They admitted that their coaching budget is being “squeezed and squeezed and squeezed”, although at £38,000 annually it stands its ground alongside those seen elsewhere. However, they are having to be incredibly “creative” with their budgets and also with their current space, with rooms and spaces regularly being re-arranged to provide as efficient use of space as possible.
There are growing concerns that we haven’t even begun to see the true rise in student population, which will only pile the pressure on facilities already at breaking point in terms of space.
Sussex Sport is allocated an annual budget every year by the university towards its running costs but the majority of it’s costs have to be covered by money it generates itself (something it continues to do successfully).
However, the lack of space is restricting the room for the expansion of our sports clubs, who themselves are in desperate need of it.
Speaking from first hand experience, this is starting to greatly impact our clubs and also the experience of students at our university. Sussex Sport is unable to offer any clubs any further sessions than those they already have, due to the aforementioned financial and spacial limitations. This means that what should be an exciting prospect of having thousands of new, talented Freshers eager to join and help expand the clubs becomes a rather stressful and depressing problem.
Last year when I was Mens’ Captain at the Squash Club, we were delighted by the large turnout we had for our sessions. It became clear very quickly though that the club would have to provide new sessions (or at least increase existing ones), which again was an exciting prospect for building a bigger and better club.
As it transpired though, this would be far more impractical and difficult than any of us imagined.
After endless meetings over a number of weeks with Union members, Sports Centre management and officers, we settled on something of a weak compromise that never really suited either parties needs. ‘Well this is our centre!’ I would exclaim, confident I was speaking for every other club out there.
However, the reality of the situation is that without the public paying their fees to use our facilities and the private bookings of gym members, all of our clubs and indeed all of us who use the facilities as individuals wouldn’t enjoy the cheaper membership we currently do. Our membership fees for the gym and our teams’ usage of the the indoor and outdoor facilities are all subsidised to an extent by the public’s memberships, the personal bookings of our own members, and through hiring the facilities out to schools and children during the day. Sussex Sport has to have some peak slots reserved for them or people won’t pay the fees.
This year spacial limitations are hitting clubs harder, specifically at those sports clubs which operate indoors, leading to many clubs having to turn people away and pack their already existing sessions to breaking point.
The worst part is we haven’t even begun to see the increased stream of new students.
However, it should be noted that Sussex Sport has extended it’s opening hours on the weekend and the bursary budget is currently higher than ever but for the majority of club/team players, this still feels like a short term fix.
Unfortunately, the Sports Clubs’ struggle for expansion is just one of the many problems facing Sport at Sussex.
Over the next few issues, Badger Sport will continue to discuss the University’s funding of Sport and whether or not we are right to be concerned by the early warning signs.