2021 has unfortunately kicked off with another lockdown. With Iffley Sports Ground, pubs and Park End closed for the time being, athletes, socialisers and clubbers alike are having to battle through the Covid circumstances, trying to keep fitness levels and morale at a high- albeit from home. Oxford University’s sports clubs are actively finding ways to keep up involvement in the hope they will be able to compete in a Varsity fixture against Cambridge and shoe the tabs in this academic year. 

Oxford University Sport are bringing the ‘Blues Performance Scheme’ Facebook group back to life in lockdown 3.0. The group provides Blues teams with different stretching and body-weight exercises, as well as provides athletes with advice on how to eat healthily. Some sports clubs, such as Oxford University Rugby Football League Club, are also holding small Zoom sessions on nutritional eating and on maintaining strength through the lockdown. 

Some sports clubs’ training plans have not been as heavily impacted by the pandemic. As exercise is still able to occur outdoors with a member from another household, the university’s cycling club has been able to find a way to keep its club members active. Toby Adkins, the men’s captain for Oxford University Cycling Club, told Cherwell that they are planning to “implement a ‘buddy-system’ to allow two person rides to occur in a Covid-19 safe manner”, as they prepare to hopefully compete in the Varsity 25-mile Individual Time Trial as early as April. 

Other clubs’ Varsity plans have also been severely affected by the current circumstances. Most of the sports clubs’ Varsity fixtures would have been occurring in this term, so Oxford’s sports clubs are having to postpone their long-awaited Varsity matches, as Oxford’s swimming club have done. Clubs are also likely to have to hold those fixtures “behind closed doors”. Students from Oxford and Cambridge will have been disappointed to learn a month ago that The Boat Race would be a ‘closed’ event, and that it will be held on the Great Ouse at Ely in Cambridgeshire instead of the River Thames in London, due to safety concerns regarding Hammersmith Bridge. The Boat Race is a televised event every year, letting students and alumni enjoy the world-famous race from home. In fact, the university’s football club, as they closely work with Cambridge’s football club to arrange a fixture for June, is using this strange year as a chance to build upon the way in which their Varsity match normally works. Erin Robinson, president of OUAFC, exclusively told Cherwell: “For the first time in our history, we will also provide a high-quality live stream with commentary- which will ensure that all our fans can enjoy the games safely from the comfort of their own homes.” 

An important aspect of university sports life are social events, and things are no different in the times of corona. Varsity fixtures are normally a key opportunity for social events, unforgettable crew dates, and forgettable club nights. Drinking at home on Zoom can be a lonely experience, so clubs are innovating new ways of keeping everyone happy and engaged. Ellie Nako Thompson, captain of the women’s lacrosse Blues team, emphasised the importance of this. She told Cherwell that “the main goal has just been to keep up the presence of lacrosse, especially as it’s such a great support network in these times.” Elsewhere, Blues captains for swimming, Matty Johnson and Zoe Faure Beaulieu, have found creative antidotes to the stress of working from home. They told Cherwell: “Whether it be through Among Us zoom socials, virtual HIIT sessions or a great OUSC bake-off, we’re ready to face the challenges that this term will bring.” 

To say that corona has brought sports to a halt would be an understatement. 2020 brought enough challenges to the Oxford sports, yet clubs fought through adverse circumstances, and found ways to keep competition levels high. The start of 2021 has levelled up the challenges sports clubs face, but a return to sports is near. Sports clubs across Oxford are also increasingly hopeful that Varsity matches will take place in the coming months. Innovation has also been needed in order to make sure sports clubs continue through the pandemic. Oxford’s athletes will be eagerly awaiting their return to the green grass of Iffley Sports Ground and the drink-spilled dance floors of Park End. But for the time being, they must carry on from home. 

Image credit: Steve Daniels via Wikimedia Commons