The Loughborough ‘Problem’ in British Sport

Elite is a difficult term to define when considering it in a sporting context. It is easy to consider a gold medal winner in the Olympics and elite athlete, a world record holder or a premiership rugby or Super League netball player to be at the top of their game. However, at University in the UK for many sport is the pursuit of the participation athlete; using sport as a spring board for social activity, to help get fit and get involved in something that they enjoy.

What many could consider the pinnacle of an elite athlete in UK Universities is the BUCS competitor. Contending directly for the University against others up and down the country, they have the ability to directly influence the rankings of the mighty Wessex in the BUCS national league tables by winning games and tournaments. However, what do BUCS points actually mean/do? They do not necessarily mean a greater influence over budgeting or the provision for sport at an institution. So why do we put so much emphasis on the BUCS competition?

Sport by its very nature is unpredictable with frequent David’s putting mighty Goliath’s to the sword. All you have to do is look to the F.A cup in recent years to see some examples. However, with the BUCS competition being so predictable are we taking that excitement out of the competition? Loughborough going to cruise to first position with Leeds Met Carnegie a not so close second.
“It’s the way BUCS is structured, we were probably 2,000 points behind Loughborough and we haven’t got the volume to pick that up, they’ll score a thousand plus points from swimming and we don’t get any.”

Ian Smyth, from Leeds Met Carnegie, predictions appear accurate as Loughborough have already picked up 400 points this season from swimming alone and currently sit nearly 729.5 points clear of Leeds Met Carnegie at the top of the table; this is with their boycott of the recent indoor athletics championship which Bath took a clean sweep in. Smyth goes on to state that the institution will do well to replicate last season’s 2nd place finish: “It will be a battle to keep 2nd, the universities that are gearing up to knock us off, Durham in particular, have done a huge amount of recruitment.” This competition for 2nd place seems to be the only thing that BUCS have left us with the current domination of Loughborough.

With the futility of institutions such as Southampton dreaming of  reaching the dizzying heights of a top ten finish in BUCS is the elitism of Universities such as Bath, Durham and Leeds Met Carnegie sucking the fun out of UK Higher Educational sport? Or is it the direction that we need to find ourselves heading in so that Athletics Unions and departments can justify the expense of University sport?

No one is saying that competition isn’t important, without it we are taking      the very excitement out of sport that drawn people to it. However, have we got our priorities wrong in Higher Education Sport? Even Leeds Met Carnegie at the top of the tables are changing their attitude. Sport development manager Ian Smyth claims the BUCS table is not the ultimate goal, he said: “That’s not the main priority for me or our staff. It’s more important for us to do well in our priority sports and get as many students playing as possible.”

With the changing landscape of Higher Education funding Athletic Unions will feel the squeeze just as much as any other department in will. The most likely areas to be hit will be budgets for scholarships, reduced budgets for coaching and actual competition outlets. Athletic Unions are going to have to find money other than the university’s money to support extra competition. It will be a challenge, but it’s not different to any other university, we’ve got to figure out how to manage differently to maintain and improve our outputs not just externally, but in improving the overall student experience of our athletes.

With this in mind there will be greater pressures for us to justify the expense of competing in national competitions when local leagues in and around Hampshire offer consistent competition and greater local exposure of the good work that the University does; without the expense of BUCS and less transport time. The latter of these will be particular relevant to the future body of students that will be paying fees of up to £9000. Reduced time spent travelling between fixtures will increase chance for study and the justification of what will be a large investment from the individual.

Also, is the current BUCS set up flexible enough for the changing student population? With the ridged fixture structure on Wednesday afternoons brought over from the British public school system can BUCS accommodate for many institutions now attempting to fight Athletic Unions and Sports departments for lectures to stretch into the precious hours of competition? We fight hard to protect the rights of athletes to duck out of lectures on Wednesday afternoons here at Southampton, but many institutions do not fight as hard and have caved to pressure from academics. With the numbers of part-time, international and mature students at University increasing and only likely to rise can Wednesday afternoons survive with these students unable or unwilling to take time off during the week. Many will have jobs, labs or children that need to take priority over a day to travel to Cardiff and back for a game of Lacrosse.

Potentially we will start directing promising athletes towards centres of excellence in the UK for example talented Volleyball players would be pushed towards Sheffield Hallam and prospective winter Olympians would be sent to Bath to use their ‘turn’ of ice. Although this may be the best way to develop the potential athletes of the future is this taking the fun out of sport further and dooming the same sports at other institutions to a recreational level?

The main job of the Athletic Union here at the University of Southampton is to equip students intellectually, physically, socially and morally to succeed throughout their lives. All the time we need to be pushing to ensure that we are fulfilling this task while keeping our members engaged and active. All of this while ensuring that we maintain our winning ways here, whether it be in BUCS or elsewhere!

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3 Comments on "The Loughborough ‘Problem’ in British Sport"

  1. Teddy
    25/02/2011 at 8:12 pm Permalink

    I completely agree with you Teddy, we SHOULD be focusing in getting people involved in sports, in a society where obesity is rife and less and less people are leading healthy lives, we should encourage them to see how easy it is for them to join in!
    Why should I have already swam for GB just to join my University’s swimming club? Fair enough, I won’t be good enough for the A team, but it shouldn’t stop me from being part of the organisation!!
    And this is what it has come down to. Elite sports now means that clubs only let in sportsmen and women who have had ‘X’ amount of experience already, just to improve their team, no stragglers allowed….

  2. Teddy
    Rebecca Oldham
    02/03/2011 at 3:10 am Permalink

    As a Loughborough student this emphasis on sport is important. We didn’t become the best in the country by just ‘playing for fun’. Loughborough enter competition whether that be BUCS or European tournaments to win. Sport is many peoples lives here and with the help of Loughboroughs reputation with sport they are able to propel themselves into ‘elitism’. If people are more interested in recreational activity this article is overlooking the specific IMS leagues between halls and the range of activities on offer at the union. If Loughborough is unbeatable at sport then so be it.

  3. Teddy
    07/03/2011 at 10:17 am Permalink


    I totally agree with you – the winning philosophy at Loughborough is something to be admired and replicated in institutions over the country. The article is mearly written to draw attention to the fact that the rest of us are left to compete for second best and is more a sly knock at BUCS rather than Loughborough. I think that something should be done – much like there is in America – to tier the BUCS leagues (properly) so that athletes can have proper competitive games and the chance of winning a championship.

    I have played against Loughborough students at rugby and enjoyed both the increased level of skill and professionalism that the athletes showed and is something that I have tried hard to replicate here at Southampton during my time as Athletic Union President.

    I totally agree that IMS leagues are the way forward for participation athletes – and should be encouraged as a feeder league into Varsity squads.


    – Ted

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