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Impact Speaks to Tom Hicks, SU Sports Officer: “Academic provision is the dream campaign!”

Impact spoke to Tom Hicks, Students’ Union (SU) Sports Officer, about what he has been doing for the last six months. Tom updated us on the progression of his policies and revealed all about gym memberships, academic provision and team initiations. 

What have you been doing since you became Sports Officer?

One of the exciting things I have been doing is sitting on the Project Management Group for the new Sports Centre. We’ve had meetings with architects to see what the designs for the new build are, and it’s been really great for me to represent the students in those meetings. It’s been great that they want to hear what students have to say about it. Hopefully that will be built in 2015 – but don’t hold me to that!

Obviously Varsity has taken up a lot of my time recently. We have been working this year to try and make it less of a headache for next year’s Sports Officer, as it is not really my job.

“The evidence suggests that if you engage a fresher in sport, they stay engaged; it’s much harder to engage a second year.”

I’ve been trying to move away from the operational part of the organisation, and instead just oversee it and make sure the teams are getting what they want from it. It was really great that the Ice Hockey was such a big success!

Gym membership meetings have occupied a lot of my time. Academic provision is something I’m really passionate about and am trying to move forward and I’ve been spending time with the IMS Co-Ordinator, going out into halls and working out how to engage freshers more in sport. The evidence suggests that if you engage a fresher in sport, they stay engaged; it’s much harder to engage a second year.

One of the things on your original agenda was Academic Provision. Tell us how that is going.

This is especially hard for BUCS teams. Wednesday afternoons are designated for sport, but many BUCS teams who have away matches have to leave in the morning and are therefore missing lectures. If I’m honest, this issue is a nightmare.

We’ve created a survey to get some evidence. We’ve targeted teams who feel the impact the most and tried to encourage them to fill the survey out. We are struggling a little bit.

“Many BUCS team who have away matches have to leave in the morning and are missing lectures… it’s a nightmare”.

However, I don’t think that the university will provide any opposition to us, if we can give them evidence. The opposition will come with lecturers, as the problem is what provision we can give.

Re-timetabling is not an option as there is simply not time. Recording lectures and detailed online hand-outs are possibilities, but for now we need to work out what provision is best before anything is put in place.

Another thing you said you wanted to do straight away was meet with the LGBT Officer, Jack Salter, and encourage the LGBT community to become more involved with sport. Has this happened?

I sat down with Jack, and I looked into NUS’ venture called ‘Out in Sport’. I was really excited about this, but it turned out to be full of wishy-washy suggestions. There was nothing concrete that I could implement. Therefore, the only thing I could do was put out the message that we support LGBT and [also that] UoN Sport is accessible.

There’s more we can do: for example, LGBT staff did a football vs. homophobia event, and that’s something we could replicate for students. However, it’s really hard to find a date, so I’ve left that in Jack’s court. But it’s probably time we revisit that and see what can be done.

In your manifesto you expressed a desire to facilitate satellite campuses further into the University’s sport program. How is that going?

Sutton Bonington (SB) have a Guild, with their own Activities Officer. What we want is to promote the links between the clubs on SB, but also promote their independence.

I have meetings scheduled with the SB Climbing Club, Riding Club and Skiing Club, to see what links can be made to the University Park teams. We want to allow them their independence, and encourage that, but also promote the links so that they do not feel isolated.

You spoke about a desire for mandatory male and female sport secretaries on all JCRs, but I know from my own hall and from friends that very few halls have both a male and a female sport secretary on their JCR. Why is this?

At first, I really wanted this, because I felt that it was too concentrated on boy’s sport. However, the response from the Living Out Department was that this wasn’t the issue. The real issue is that the Union is not engaged enough with our JCRs and we need to take greater ownership over them. Therefore, we have started JCR sports secretary training.

“The Union is not engaged enough with our JCRs and we need to take greater ownership over them”

The idea was to tackle the issue of not being engaged enough, and if this is still an issue then we can revisit it. The problem is that JCRs don’t need to get bigger, because then they become unmanageable.

We’re looking at perhaps bringing in a Cluster Rep, who is a second or third year, who would meet the Sport Secretaries on a weekly or monthly basis to observe their progress. It’s still only an idea, though.

Another thing you wanted was for the Strength and Conditioning Suite to be used better, to help elite teams reach their full potential. Has this happened?

It was an issue based on equipment. Previously, there was a perception that it was used only by the rugby team, but now the Ultimate Frisbee Team go twice a week and we’ve set up girl-only sessions, which the girls’ judo team uses.

All the feedback I’ve received has been really positive, so it was really just a case of me asking for it, and the Sports Centre delivering. We have a really great relationship with the Sports Centre.

I also have a Friday Forum every week, where I meet the Sports Presidents in four sections: Field Sports, Indoor Sports, Water Sports and Martial Arts. We meet and they give me general feedback.

Then on a Monday morning I have a weekly meeting with the Sports Centre, where I voice the concerns of the Presidents. They are often just small admin issues, such as “can we have an extra boot cleaner outside the astro?”, and these can happen really quickly and easily.

After the Varsity ban for the Rugby Union Club, a lot was said about initiation ceremonies. What can be done about this issue?

The policy for initiation ceremonies falls under the events policy, which is that all events have to be accessible, appropriate and not have a focus on alcohol. Most importantly, they must not force anyone to do anything against their will. The rugby ban happened before I came to the post, so I just inherited it.

“People must be part of a team because of their sporting merit, not because they went to a party or not”.

There is a wider issue around initiations which we are trying to battle. No-one must feel manipulated and, most importantly, people must be part of a team because of their sporting merit, not because they went to a party or not.

I think we are cracking down on the issue, but it is a national issue. It links to the ‘lad culture’ that our SU is trying to move against, which I wholly support. Hopefully the way I have dealt with it this year has worked and it won’t keep arising as an issue.

Gym membership is very contentious, and a lot of students have voiced opinions about it, especially the prices. Can we expect any changes?

I’ll tell you a secret:  gym membership here is a lot cheaper than at a lot of universities. At Exeter and Leeds for example, it is a lot more expensive. Therefore, the problem is not affordability, but flexibility.

We’ve set up a working group to move forward with it, but we are not going to change anything now, until after the new build, because really there’s not much point.

What the working group is dealing with is what membership will look like while the building work is happening, and then what the new membership will look like afterwards. This is really hard, because we don’t even know what building work is going to take place yet.

“The problem [with gym memberships] is not affordability, but flexibility.”

I’ve written a report, where I have looked at other Russell Group universities, other top ten BUCS universities, local gyms and other issues such as medics who go on placement – all the issues that affect people wanting to use the gym. ‘Gym only’ membership is something that students want.

The problem is not the university, who fully support it, but the Sports Centre, because they need the money from membership. Also, the new membership would only be in place for a year or so before the new build, so there’s no point changing anything now, we should leave it until after the build.

The trial runs of the new membership that I previously spoke about are no longer a good option, as the Sports Centre wants us to wait, so that’s what we’re doing.

And finally, what is next for you? Is there anything you still want to tackle?

Academic provision is the dream campaign! I personally I had to make a choice between a module I wanted to do on my course and my participation in the lacrosse team, and so that was hard.

I don’t want anyone to have to choose between their course and representing the university – it’s something I am really passionate about, so hopefully that will happen!

Beth Rowland
Campus Reporter

Image: Magda and Toby

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