The saying goes, you should leave Oxford with a first, a Blue or a spouse. Now, unfortunately, the first option is mostly down to you while for the last, let us gently point you in the direction of Cherwell’s Blind Date. But what about the middle one?
You’ve probably seen them, swanning about the Park End VIP area in their Dark Blue blazers having prelashed at Vinnies or been on crewdate. You’ve probably thought ‘wankers’ or something similar and more forceful. But maybe, just maybe, you’ve wondered what feat of sporting prowess has given them the right to wear such and overpriced, understated garment? What do you have to do to get hold of one for yourself?
To break things down, there are three types of Blues sport: Full Blue, Discretionary Full Blue and Half Blue. Discretionary Full Blue sports tend to be a little less mainstream, with the ability to award Blues for fulfilling certain (often very hard to achieve) criteria, while Half Blue sports occupy the niche end of the spectrum. For the purpose of this article, let’s say you have your eyes set on the top prize (not to do down any other sports: no Half Blue is easily won). We will also ignore most Discretionary Full Blues, as the requirements (Badminton – last eight in BUCS, Karate – medal in a national competition) are mostly prohibitively high for any novice to aim for.
So, we’ve laid down the ground rules, now where from here? One of the most important factor is squad size – you have a far higher chance of making the Varsity athletics or rugby teams than you do for netball (seven players), sailing (six helmsmen) or squash (five players). Then, one must consider the difficulty of making the Varsity team (generally the sole requirement for a Full Blue Sport). In most other universities, rowing would be an excellent route to representative success, as long as one is reasonably tall, and dedicated enough to put in the many hours of training required. However, Oxford is clearly an exception to this, as evidenced by the total absence of an OUBC stand at the Freshers Fair. They will find you and not the other way round. Similarly, although rugby offers the largest number (up to twenty three, as long as you make it onto the pitch at HQ) the artificially high standard of OURFC, where ex-professionals and internationals are ten-a-penny, makes hockey and football appear ‘easier’ options from a team sport perspective.
The use of inverted commas above is deliberate. Having approached the issue from a purely statistical direction, we’ve clearly been naïve and ignored the popularity of the sports on offer. For the boys, rugby, hockey, football and cricket are played at schools throughout the land, while for the girls netball, hockey and to a slightly lesser extent (although not that much, looking at the Oxford demographic) lacrosse fulfil the same roles. Chances are, if you’re going to be turning out against Cambridge at one of these you’ll already be gunning for it and have played it for a good proportion of your pre-Oxford life. It would be best to steer clear of sports for which you need a long-developed technique, such as cradling in lacrosse or serving in tennis. That’s not to do down other sports at all, but a stab at a slightly less mainstream sport such as golf, basketball or women’s rugby may be better served for the athletic but undecided.
One interesting subsection is those sports that have a measurable level attached to Full Blue status – for athletics, swimming and Modern Pentathlon one needs to achieve a pre-set standard as well as competing in the Varsity match. Let’s not understate the quality required – the men’s 100m time would have put you in the top 150 nationally last year and athletics, for example, routinely gives out only three or four Blues annually each to men and women – but it is a great motivator to know at all times how close you are to that elusive Blue standard (and just how far there is left to go).
So combining all these factors, where should one aim? It is important to remember that whatever the sport we are talking about, serious dedication and no little talent are needed to achieve our aim. To quote Tom Bloomfield, Men’s Blues committee President, “The awarding of a Full Blue is a great accolade and any receiver should be proud of their achievement regardless of the sport.”
However, for men the up ’til now overlooked noble art of boxing could be a good avenue to go down; the training is brutal and preparing for a fight requires total commitment (as well as the world’s longest drinking ban), but there are nine spots on offer spanning the weight categories, and the club has a history of turning total novices into Varsity-winning fighters.
Meanwhile, for women, rugby is definitely worth a look. Natural sporting instinct can be moulded into excellent rugby technique, and this brilliant yet sometimes overlooked sport does offer nineteen Blues up for grabs each year, with their Varsity match coming at the end of Hilary term to give beginners an extra three months time to get used to a new sport. Alternatively athletics and modern pentathlon, with their definite targets, are tempting options for those with natural yet unfocussed athleticism (and modern pentathlon has enough variety to cater for the easily bored).
So, getting a Blue from scratch? It should have been made clear by now that although far from easy it’s definitely possible, and has been done many a time in the past. All that’s left is to throw yourself in and give it a go!