The Glasgow University Gym
Credit: Rhiannon Doherty

Student sport for 2020/21: what’s it going to look like?

By Jacob Skipper

Promotion and relegation binned for student leagues during 2020-21, with recreational sport planning to return to normal in time for Freshers’ Week.

British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), the authority for higher education sport, has announced that there will be no promotion or relegation in BUCS leagues during 2020-21 due to the ongoing effects of Covid-19 restrictions on teams’ readiness for competition. BUCS currently propose a reduced league programme starting in January 2021 with an optional extra competition in the first semester, while indoor cricket remains in the third term (after Easter) as usual. Outdoor cricket and knockout competitions are currently excluded from BUCS plans. The revised calendar of events published at the end of August does not include any plans for international student competition at present.

To bridge the gap in student competition, the Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) are currently considering the introduction of a new intramural competition at the University of Glasgow to operate during the first semester. Taking place during Wednesday afternoons, set aside for student sport, one idea features a three-tier league where each level would be respectively: an intervarsity league replacing BUCS between first teams from the University of Glasgow and local institutions such as Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian Universities; a slightly less competitive intramural league for second and third teams; and an “Entrance to sport” league for anyone from freshers to post-graduates to enter in a team with their friends, that would still provide students with an avenue to recreational sport. 

The total cost of affiliation to BUCS varies based on the size of the institution and the number of teams entered for competition. The rules mean that universities submitting fewer teams than normal will not be penalised by demotion in the next season as long as they affiliate this year – but Shereif Kholeif, GUSA president, expressed concern: “Smaller universities will have a smaller fee, but, relative to them, it might be a bit more difficult to justify paying that fee.” Nonetheless, he maintained his support for the approach of BUCS, adding: “They’re providing students with an avenue for competition but not necessarily disadvantaging any university that hasn’t necessarily had the opportunity to train… I think they’re doing what they can in quite a tricky situation.”

Meanwhile, the first men’s football team have resumed training at Garscube ahead of the start of their national league efforts. Their league starts earlier than the intervarsity equivalents, so begin training earlier, but other clubs are due to phase in training as well in the coming weeks following a full risk assessment. All clubs are meant to have someone responsible for “Track and Trace” communication with members if an outbreak occurs.

The sports fair will be held this year in the Glasgow University Union to simplify the reopening of the gym, which is scheduled for Monday 14 September, and plans are currently underway to provide taster sessions for sports as in previous years, albeit with slight changes. 

When asked about the difficulties faced in planning for the next year, Kholeif said:

“It has been a little bit difficult in the sense of you make plan A, that doesn’t work, you go to plan B, that doesn’t work, you then go to C, D, E… and eventually you find something that begins to stick under the changes, which is kind of where we’re at. Probably somewhere around the plan F or G level at the moment.

“I’ve been well supported by the University staff, UofG Sport and my council as well, who are great, so I’m quite confident it’ll be a good year.” 

Elsewhere in the city, athletics tracks, velodromes, climbing walls, and other facilities have been reopening since 17 August 2020. Outdoor contact sports were approved by the government to recommence on Monday 24 August 2020 with a maximum training group size of 30, while indoor contact sport will follow three weeks later on 14 September 2020.

The GUSA president underlined that the provision of club sport using University facilities will be strictly in line with government recommendations, which extends to the types of activities available. More details can be found for individual sports on the sportscotland website. 

The gym at the Stevenson building is currently still scheduled to open on 14 September 2020 in line with earlier Scottish Government advice, although a recent policy change allowed openings from 31 August 2020 onwards. In the meantime, UofG Sport staff have been undergoing all the normal and Covid-19 precaution training necessary to deliver a smooth operation on the first day back.

A one-way system will be in place throughout the building, which will close for deep cleaning twice daily around lunchtime and earlier than usual in the evening. To restrict numbers within the building at a particular time, UofG Sport has released an app that will allow members to book a timeslot for the use of gym equipment and view online classes. 

However, there remains uncertainty over the way the pool will be run, as the government currently mandates both the closure of saunas and steam rooms as well as a minimum of 9m2 per person, including when swimming, in a pool only six lanes wide – with lanes between 2 and 2.5 metres, the pool is only about 18m broad. This would make an upper limit of 41 people in the pool area at best, although a lower number is likely. English pools meet social distancing requirements by using a double-width lane, a proposal that, if mirrored in Scotland, would reduce the pool to three lanes only. The availability of the changing rooms and showers is also in question, so attendees are requested to arrive early and dressed appropriately for their activities.


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