The other Presidential election

What links a sailor, a modern pentathlete, a netballer, an archer and a basketballer? The answer: the desire to become the next Oxford University Sports Federation (OUSF) President.

Established twelve years ago, OUSF is one of the least publicised but most important student organisations at Oxford. It is headed by a recent Oxford graduate on a sabbatical placement. Their role combines representing the student body to the various university authorities; managing the allocation of the annual budget; co-ordinating and organising the university clubs and fixtures, both inter-collegiate and through British University and College Sport (BUCS); and holding the very important responsibility of distributing the Sport Q-Jump tickets for Wednesday at Park End. OUSF’s election process, however, is one of Oxford’s more discreet, with hacking actively criticised and avoided in its week long campaign. That is not to say though that it is not a highly sought-after and competitive position. It is for this reason that the five candidates agreed to be interviewed early on a wet, Wednesday morning.

All, unsurprisingly, admitted that the main attraction for them was the chance to contribute full-time to Oxford’s sporting scene having had to spend time over the course of their university career studying. This meant that they were all also very driven to contribute to the university’s sporting infrastructure because of the amount that they had got out of it themselves. Rachel Jarvis went as far as to say that without sport she could not have survived at Oxford and so “wanted to help such a valuable thing progress and develop”. As only a second year, standing for what is traditionally a graduate sabbatical position, Victoria Moffett is perhaps the most surprising candidate. She, however, justified her decision to stand this year rather than next by arguing that she hoped to introduce a degree of continuity to the position, as not only would she be able to enjoy the facilities she had actively influenced in her year out, but would still be in Oxford to offer advice to her successor.

OUSF has at times faced criticism over whether it is necessary in a university characterised by strong sports clubs both at university and college level. Once again though the candidates all refuted this argument and were staunch defenders of its varied work. Enni-Kukka Tuomala, a current OUSF committee member, pointing out that OUSF was the classic example of an organisation receiving little attention because it ran so effectively. Marc Tamlyn stressed that a lot of students benefitted from OUSF’s resources unknowingly, such as the website’s contact lists and fixture coordination, and that he had really noticed that Cambridge’s organisation was much poorer, perhaps because they are one of the few universities without a sports federation or athletics union. Laura Bell, the current Netball Club (OUNC) President, praised OUSF for the assistance it provided struggling clubs. Talking about OUNC, Laura described how OUSF had been amazing for the club when it “was in a massively difficult position last year and without OUSF’s help to recover it would still be struggling”.

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There was no doubt though that all the candidates felt that OUSF could do far more to raise student awareness both of its services and to encourage publicity for specific clubs and events, perhaps this was most damningly exemplified by the admission that, except for Victoria Moffett, none of the candidates had had any contact with OUSF until they had reached the committee level of their respective sports, usually in their second year. With this, the interview turned toward the current state of Oxford Sport and what they would each like to achieve if elected.

‘Oxford Sport is not meeting its potential’ was the impression one got from all the candidates, heavy criticism coming as it did from five of the university’s most dedicated sportsmen and women. Whilst Marc Tamlyn stressed that the university’s teams were by no means letting themselves down there was general agreement that the academic commitments that come with being a student at Oxford combined with, as Laura Bell put it, “not the investment to match the talent” meant Oxford was always at a disadvantage to universities like Loughborough.

The recently unveiled plans for the redevelopment of Iffley were, however, met with cautious optimism because it would not only mean more clubs could train regularly but that Oxford could host national competitions. No such concerns were raised about college sport, which Rachel Jarvis saw as one of the main reasons for the strength of our university teams, “it encourages participation and means that players can develop their ability and confidence until ready to trial for the university sides”. Laura Bell agreed but felt that although a balance needed to be maintained, “university sport is striving for excellence” and so perhaps deserved priority from OUSF.

It is, however, on their policies that the candidates will be judged next Tuesday and there is no doubt all the candidates acknowledge that a large part of their year needs to be taken up with increasing the profile of OUSF and the sports clubs amongst the wider student population. Enni-Kukka Tuomala and Marc Tamlyn, in particular, were very eager to improve the support all sports clubs, not just the larger ones such as rowing and rugby, received. Enni highlighted how the Hockey Club had recently used Facebook effectively to recruit a large crowd for the second and third teams’ Varsity matches whilst Marc hoped that OUSF could encourage the clubs to make their events more spectator friendly, acknowledging that his own sport – archery – had not been particularly successful at this in the past. Victoria Moffett said that she hoped to work with the student newspapers to increase awareness of clubs, fixtures and results; whilst Laura Bell noted that Oxide Radio’s relaunch could become a valuable resource.

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When pushed though for their single most important priority, the majority agreed that there was a need to improve awareness and communication between OUSF and the sports clubs so that OUSF’s resources could benefit all. Marc Tamyln, was however, the exception and returned to the need to improve match attendances, noting that it is currently very hard to find up-to-date, detailed fixture lists easily.

It remains to be seen then who triumphs next Tuesday, although on the evidence of this interview it will be a very difficult decision for the electorate, made up of two representatives per university sports club and one per college. As one of the candidates said as they returned into the wet, morning weather it does seem a shame that there cannot be five presidents this year.

Please contact Ruth Holmes (01865 241335) to determine whether you are eligible to vote next Tuesday.