Sport in St Andrews plays a significant role in university life, but the question often emerges: do some sports clubs receive more benefits than others? One of my close friends has been on the Saints Squash team since first year, and she recently shed light on its on-going situation with lack of funding despite their recent improvement in the overall running of the club and their record high performance.
In 2013, the only two squash courts at the sports centre were torn down in light of the expansion of the fitness suite in their place. This marked the beginning of a dispute between the Sports Centre and the Squash Club because they failed to meet the expectations to rebuild new courts after the old one’s removal due to the spending limits. It became a back and forth discussion between the squash team and the student run athletic union–who are there to support sports clubs at the university–but ultimately the club were told that they weren’t competing at a high enough performance and weren’t “economically beneficial” to require courts. Now, six years into this back-and-forth debate, the Saints squash team continue to train in non-university courts, at East Sands Leisure Centre.
Ollie Pumphrey, who is the current president of the University’s Squash Club, discussed the team’s drastic improvement in the past few years in terms of their high performance. He said that the biggest change between this year and previous years is organisation. In the past, the team have missed matches due to lack of planning or the most competitive team was often not fielded. This year there has been significant change with substantial effects. Simply adding spreadsheets and structured sessions has meant the team is not only competitive but impeccably punctual. As well as recruiting a student coach, the costs are low, and flexibility of training times is high.
Payment has also changed: now players pay more but receive transport to matches as well as more court time. Clearly, all these changes in both organisation and training have made a huge effect on the club’s performance. This season has turned the standard around with the squash team’s incredibly high performance. The men’s team in the BUCS are currently sitting 2nd out of 8 in the Scottish tier with two games to go. This is compared to last year where they came 8thout of 9. Similarly, the women’s team won the first tier without losing any of their 20 games played and are on their way to qualifying for the national league next semester.
With these levels of high-performance, Ollie provided a comparison of the squash team to other performance sports in St Andrews. This year squash only received 30 points, due to poor performance and poor management of the club. This proves significantly low compared to the likes of hockey with 97, netball with 60, football with 71 and water polo with 124. The squash team’s performance history this year proves that they have more than met the standards of the other high-performance teams. However, the meagre 30 point they receive begs the question: shouldn’t they receive the similar treatment and funding as other teams?
Despite the regrettable decision to remove the courts, Ollie admits there was little evidence until recently that the team was worthy of future investment, and they understandably lost funding because of missing matches. However, with the significant turnaround of the club, it can no longer be claimed that the team isn’t meeting a high enough standard to deserve proper funding. Squash met the promise on their end to improve the overall running of the club, and it has a new lease of life and potential as a high-performance sport at this Uni.
Ultimately the goal for the club is to have their own courts. Ollie notes that at St Andrews we have a unique standing in that most of those who play squash are students who have played up to a high level before. The average fresher standard is actually quite high, but first-year students don’t end up playing because the courts are a significant distance from town. Alternatively, the club needs funding for a beginner’s coach. These things require investment from the AU, especially with the future of East Sands Leisure centre up in the air–meaning the club again is under threat. There aren’t negative feelings towards the AU, as the team itself recognises the reasons for a loss in funding. In the near future, they hope to have their improved performance properly and appropriately recognised as they have more than proved their worth!