A Cambridge netballer going for a hoop in front of a packed crowdCambridge University Ladies' Netball Club

The old saying goes that students should leave Cambridge with a First, a Blue or a spouse, and a Full Blue, awarded to the University’s most talented athletes, is certainly a prestigious and coveted prize. It is therefore worrying that it can be statistically easier for male athletes to obtain a Blue than female athletes.

Between 2012 and 2016, the University awarded 760 Full Blues to male athletes, and 524 to female athletes, excluding figures for water polo in 2012 and 2013, where lifetime aggregate blues figures were presented for each player. In other words, 59% of Full Blue athletes in this period were male.

Blues are awarded at the discretion of the University’s Men and Women’s Blues Committees. According to Dr Scott Annett, senior treasurer of the Men’s Blues Committee in 2017-18, “the criteria to achieve a Blue varies from sport to sport, depending on the level of participation and standard of the competition”. In certain cases, the Blues guidelines do seem to reflect levels of participation across sports: as the Blues Committee pointed out, women’s lacrosse have Full Blue status while men’s lacrosse have Half Blue status, because the women’s lacrosse team has higher levels of participation and play at a higher standard.

Indeed, the Blues Committee clarified that: “data gathered by the Sports Service from 50 Sports Clubs over the summer informed us that more males play sport that females, so there will naturally be more male Blues awarded. We are looking at how we can engage with more female students and give them a pathway to sport.”

Members of the Ladies' Netball Club in actionCambridge University Ladies' Netball Club

However, there do appear to be disparities across certain sports.

The Blues statues for cricket and netball are a case in point. Both nationally and across Cambridge, netball is a hugely popular sport. According to the Sport England’s Active Lives survey, 180,200 over 16-year olds played netball once a week or more between October 2015 and September 2016. In Cambridge, meanwhile, there are 63 College netball teams, organised into 4 Ladies leagues and 3 Mixed Leagues.

Cricket, on the other hand, was played by 158,500 over 16-year olds once a week or more over the same period, while participation across the University is also low: in 2015, for example, only 25 teams entered the Cricket Cuppers competition, with a number of colleges unable to field a team.

With significantly more people playing netball nationwide and over double the amount of netball teams to cricket teams in cuppers, the netball club has a far larger pool of players to pick from than the cricket club.

In spite of this, while the awarding of a Blue for male cricketers is dependent solely on appearing in the Varsity Cricket match, the Blues guidelines for netball are far more stringent: Full Blues are only awarded to female netball players who not only compete in Varsity but also finish in the top 4 of the Midlands 1A league.

These guidelines meant that in 2014 the University did not award a single Full Blue to a female netball player and awarded just one in 2015, years in which 26 Full Blues were awarded to male cricketers. Though, as the Blues Committee noted, the men’s cricket team does not compete in BUCS and so could not be held to this standard, it must be questioned why this additional barrier is placed on the netball club: why not make a netball Full Blue dependent solely on Varsity appearance due to its popularity and the resulting competition?


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A senior source within the Cambridge University Netball Club commented to Varsity that “I will always have some grievances that we represent the largest (and most competitive) female BUCS sport in the country, playing at a highly competitive level within the Midlands and our national cup competition, yet netball does not hold automatic Blues status”, adding that “gaining a place in any of our three teams is a huge achievement given the number of trialists and standard of players, not to mention making it on the Blues, so it can be frustrating if a player doesn’t get their Blue due to a competitive year in the league.”

It would appear then that more work still needs to be done in certain areas in terms of addressing the Blues gender balance, and ensuring that the athletic accomplishments of the University’s female sports-players are as equally appreciated as their male counterparts. Encouragingly, though, the Blues Committee were keen to stress that “Blues Committees and sport statuses are in a period of review in order to align any disparities.” They said that “this is a being undertaken over the coming academic year and is not an easy or quick process”. Only time will tell whether the Blues Committees are successful able to address the gender imbalance.

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