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From gym memberships to sports club fees student sport comes at a price, but has it all become too much for the student budget?

The financial accessibility of sport, in particular university sport, is a topic that is being brought to light more and more. Exercise and being involved with sport, purely for enjoyment, is fundamental to both our physical and emotional wellbeing, and everybody deserves these opportunities to participate and have fun. Whilst there are some support mechanisms in place, such as occasional free events and available funding, Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) is sometimes considered by some as more of a “business” rather than a students union. This is bearing in mind the financial burden of many sports clubs fees and a compulsory gym membership for the Stevenson Building.

"Glasgow University Sports Association (GUSA) is sometimes considered by some as more of a “business” rather than a students union."

Given the popularity of a recent Glasknow post critiquing GUSA, it is evident that many students are averse to their policies, particularly the financial aspects. Although GUSA is by no means the only sports union in Scotland, and the UK, that requires gym membership for all their clubs, that does not negate the exclusionism that many feel as a result of this system. That said, compared to any other decent quality gym, the price of the Stevenson is practically a steal. However, other gyms allow monthly payments. To expect students to be able to fork out £144 in one go is not always possible for many students, who may live paycheque to paycheque. For those studying abroad for a semester looking to get involved in club sports, a full year’s membership is still a requirement, despite only being able to make use for a maximum of three months. Moreover, off-peak memberships do not indicate eligibility for GUSA club membership, which many opt for due to the lower price.

To compare this to other Scottish universities with sporting backgrounds, the University of Stirling’s gym is certainly pricier than Glasgow’s, coming in at £175, however, monthly payments are permitted. Inevitably, this allows more students from low-income backgrounds a greater opportunity for an equally enriching university experience as their more affluent peers. Additionally, a gym membership is not an overall requirement for sports club membership. Instead, a £25 fee paid to the Sports Union covers insurance and competitors fees all year round. 

"This allows more students from low-income backgrounds a greater opportunity for an equally enriching university experience as their more affluent peers."

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all sports teams use the university facilities in the West End. What is the justification of members of clubs such as wakeboarding, snowsports and surfing being forced into purchasing a gym membership when their activities do not even take place there? In adopting a similar system to Stirling Sports Union, GUSA would have an incredibly valuable opportunity to support students who may find it financially inaccessible to participate in these sports outside of university.  This year’s GUSA executive committee has stated that they are working towards a similar system of exemption for sports clubs that don’t use campus facilities, which would be a welcome step for many.

It is also important to remember that not all students live in Glasgow. Many of those that live in the surrounding areas, and beyond, have local gym memberships for various reasons; financial, ease of accessibility, less commuting time etc. For those who still wish to join a sports club but do not have the means to pay for two gym memberships, single, one-off payments, for example, could encourage a significant amount of the student body to become involved with club sports. Alongside a separate sports union membership, principally there does not appear to be any valid reason to not implement this system.

In a statement from GUSA President Jessica Woodcock, she relays GUSA’s upcoming plans: “We want to ensure university sports health and wellbeing is an inclusive space in which everyone has an opportunity to participate. Throughout the year, we also offer many events and activities, free of charge to all, these range from fun activities like UV volleyball sessions to online health and wellbeing seminars, so there is something for everyone – whether you're able to be on campus or not”.

"We also offer many events and activities, free of charge to all, these range from fun activities like UV volleyball sessions to online health and wellbeing seminars, so there is something for everyone..."

Jessica Woodcock, GUSA President

They also run the Active Buddies program which involves pairing a GUSA Buddy up with a student and allows four weeks free access to the gym. Another of GUSA’s funding opportunities is the Chancellor’s Fund which provides up to £7000 for “once-in-a-lifetime” trips. Past trips include a week at one of Europe’s top Wake parks, climbing Kilimanjaro and swimming the English Channel. On top of this, GUSA appears to have used Covid as an opportunity to further support students. This year, GUSA has successfully introduced a Hardship Fund to enable students of lower-income backgrounds to get involved by providing bursaries in joining club sport. Moreover, during the height of the pandemic, GUSA stepped up to support international students by providing sports equipment. They also took extra measures to ensure self-isolating students’ welfare, such as delivering food. 

The welcome changes that the current GUSA executives are planning will hopefully provide lower-income students with better opportunities and even encourage more students generally to become involved. However, it is evident that the system requires a thorough overhaul to ensure inclusivity. This year’s GUSA council seem to be on the right track to finally change university sport at Glasgow for the better.


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