The future of one of Glasgow University’s oldest sports clubs is in jeopardy following a decision by the University Court last month.
Glasgow University Rugby Football Club (GURFC), founded in 1869, has been prohibited from using the University’s name and facilities as of January 1.
The drastic action, advocated by Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) and unanimously approved at the last meeting of the Court, comes after an array of controversial incidents over the last three years.
On two occasions, club members were found to be consuming alcohol on a GUSA minibus, following which all travelling privileges were suspended. In a separate incident, the club returned an external hire vehicle containing vomit.
More recently, the club’s annual dinner was shut down after details of inappropriate behaviour were published in the Scotsman in March last year.
Gavin Lee, President of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), felt the punishment was justified because it protects the interests of the wider student body.
He said: “The reputation of GURFC and the behaviour of some of its members were detrimental to the University and its students.
“The SRC supported GUSA in its decision as they were in the best position to decide on the appropriate action to be taken.”
The final straw for GURFC appears to have been the club’s banning from the Glasgow University Union (GUU) last October.
This step was taken following reports of continued misconduct within the Union, with the Principal, Sir Muir Russell, received a letter of complaint over members’ actions accompanied by photographic evidence.
GUU President Chris Birrell explained: “At the beginning of last semester, we sat down with the rugby club and highlighted the trouble there had been in recent years.
“We set out a clear path of disciplinary measures that would be taken if these circumstances continued; unfortunately, they did, so we had to take the last resort of banning all resident members of the club.”
Ian Watkinson, GURFC’s captain, admitted that the behaviour of some past members of the team had been unreasonable.
He told Guardian: “Rugby clubs have always had controversy surrounding their conduct off the pitch and one could probably argue that, in years gone by, the club has had issues with discipline.
“However, we have now produced a disciplinary package to help the club solve any behavioural issues and this should prevent future problems.
“I think that to ban the entire club for incidents involving a very small percentage of members is an overreaction. Recently the club, as a whole, has been on better behaviour.
“We apologise, not only to the University, but also to any other institution or member of the public that we have offended or upset at any point.”
Watkinson’s claim that the University’s actions are too harsh was rejected by Lee.
He said: “Significant evidence was provided to the Court detailing the actions of GURFC and some of its members over recent years and subsequent action taken by GUSA and the University.
“There was no evidence that their behaviour had improved, and it was on this basis that the Court made its decision.”
Birrell added: “Although the GUU was not involved in the decision to ban the club as a whole, we can back the actions of the Court and GUSA because we were working with them at each stage of the disciplinary process.”
On the pitch, GURFC has been one of the University’s most successful clubs in recent times. The first team currently sit top of the BUCS Scottish Conference Men’s 2A League, having won every game of the season so far.
GURFC’s suspension will remain enforced until the club implements changes to satisfy the University Court that it can operate as an inclusive group.
Watkinson explained that this suspension effectively prevented GURFC from functioning as a sports team.
He said: “The club can’t work without the use of the University’s name or facilities. At present, there is no GURFC on the pitch.”
Despite accepting that the behaviour of his team members was unacceptable, Watkinson told Guardian that, in some respects, he felt that his team had been unfairly treated.
He explained: “We were initially under the impression that the suspension was a short-term process as we were given the chance to appeal.
“However, after attending a meeting with the Secretary of Court and some higher members of the GUSA/SRS Council, we have heard that the University Court has cancelled our fixtures for the rest of the year.
“The decision to suspend us and take away our fixtures was made and acted upon before we were given the chance to appeal.
“Something that I feel is even more important is that GUSA made the decision to suspend us indefinitely on November 4 and the final decision by the University Court was made on December 10.
“The club did not find out officially until January 6 by email, giving us no chance to appeal properly.”
Euan Millar, President of GUSA, was reluctant to make a full statement on behalf of the student sports body until the suspension process had been completed.