Oxford backs sport for all

November 26, 1999

Oxford University is reappraising its historical drive for sporting excellence in "old boys" areas such as rugby and rowing, in a move to lose its old-fashioned, elitist image.

Resources will be refocused to help bolster women's sport and to improve provision for non-team sports and less traditional, male-dominated sports.

The move comes in the wake of a two-year review of the university's role in sport and follows vice-chancellor Colin Lucas's proclamation last month that the more traditional pursuit of sporting achievement "is not a necessary part of our emphasis on academic excellence".

"It is not clear to me that this university should seek to emulate some other universities in their thrust for national and international stature in sport, with its concomitant high cost," said Professor Lucas in his annual oration.

As part of the national drive to widen access to higher education, Oxford should provide a more diverse range of sports, he said.

"Sport is an important part of a balanced student life. Student taste in sport has diversified ... We do ourselves no favours in terms of student recruitment if we do not pay attention to that," he added.

Professor Lucas acknowledged the huge marketing opportunities afforded by the "emblematic status" of traditional sports, including the Boat Race and the Varsity match, both watched by millions on television, and said these would not be neglected.

Administrative improvements, overseen by a new sports strategy committee, would help build on areas of traditional excellence.

But the review of sport highlighted pressing inadequacies that required more immediate attention and Pounds 150,000 on top of the university's annual recurrent grant of Pounds 220,000 for sport has been earmarked for action in these areas.

A key issue revealed by the sport report, by Hertford College fellow Bill MacMillan, was "under-provision for women's sport". Dr MacMillan, reporting earlier this summer, called for "significant improvements in sporting provision for women" and the vice-chancellor confirmed that the situation was being addressed.

New facilities for women's cricket, rugby and soccer are already on course and separate men's and women's clubs are to be amalgamated, providing equal access to all. Recommendations in the report for a new centre for women's sport have also been accepted by the university.

Moves to bolster non-team sports are also in train. The university is bidding to build a 25-

metre swimming pool as part of a redevelopment of the Iffley Road sports complex, which includes plans for four new indoor tennis courts and an Olympic-standard hockey pitch.

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