University of Cambridge Sport

The University Sports Service supports student sporting activity, provides key facilities, and offers health and wellbeing provisions, among many things. At the end of Michaelmas, I spoke about this work, the challenges posed by lockdowns, and plans for the future with Steve Goddard (Business & Operations Assistant Director), Lucy McGennity (Sports Club Support Manager), Ashley Edwards (Marketing & Communications Manager), and Nick Brooking (Director of Sport).


Lucy said the ‘team working on [navigating the restrictions] has done an exemplary job to get through all the guidance’ from the government and different national governing bodies, and also from the University and colleges. As testament to this work, about 60 of the 65 clubs the Sports Service works with were able to be doing something in Michaelmas, either ‘their full activity or fitness training around their activity’. Lucy also discussed an important mantra for organising sport at the moment: ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’. Cambridge sport was fortunate not to have been completely stopped by a blanket ban last term, as at some universities, however they are mindful that ‘we’ve all got a responsibility to keep everyone safe, as well as to keep sport going’.

Steve described how the operations staff have also ‘had to change their mindset’ and ‘be very adaptable’. The periods of closure last year were actually very busy times for them, with lots of kit to move around, one-way systems to create and advertise, and air handling regulations to comply with. The staff and customers both have parts to play in helping the facilities to re-open safely, and whilst it is ‘challenging’, Steve concluded that it is ‘a good challenge’, and a time they can ‘come out of a lot stronger’.

The booking system and enhanced cleaning routines developed during the pandemic may be retained. Ashley also drew attention to how 2020 showed the potential of the Sports Service’s digital offerings, such as the Virtual Climbing Challenge and Couch to 5K programme, which are ‘allowing us to reach new audiences’ outside the physical setting.

Varsity matches

Nick said that the Sports Service is ‘just a tiny part of everything that goes on’ in Cambridge sport and an ‘extraordinary level of volunteer, alumni, and student engagement’ is essential for enabling events to happen. Nevertheless, the Sports Service plays an important role in these fixtures, with the most famous event on the calendar of course being the Boat Race. Nick told how it is ‘really important’ that the race, cancelled last March, ‘has a place this year and a presence’, and that the BBC will still broadcast it from Ely.

As Ashley pointed out, though, it’s important ‘not to neglect the fact that some of the clubs with less media coverage’ often provide ‘some of the best sporting moments’. Cambridge’s nail-biting win in the dying moments of last year’s Fencing Varsity particularly stands out. The ‘whole picture of sport is so much bigger than people realise’ – ‘the work that that takes, and the amount of people involved in putting that on, is truly quite incredible’.

In discussion of what the Sports Service is doing to continue to make sure women’s, and/or newer, varsities and sports have equal opportunities and profiles at Cambridge. Lucy made it clear that to the Sports Service, ‘every varsity match is of equal importance’. They spend much time ‘supporting [clubs] in making sure their varsities happen’. Inequality issues and making sure things go ahead is ‘an ongoing challenge’, but the Sports Service ‘support as and when we can’.

Health benefits

Ashley explained how they ‘want everybody to be able to benefit from [their] programmes’, not just students who already play sport, and not even just University members – they’re trying to ‘pair town and gown’. Since Coronavirus, and utilising their digital potential, the Sports Service has been part of the University’s Festival of Wellbeing, providing sessions on home ergonomics and mindfulness, and they participated in the PPE fundraising appeal.

Before COVID, they facilitated re-routing the Cambridge Half Marathon through King’s and Jesus, in order to increase the scale of the always over-subscribed race – an event that forged an ongoing and growing ‘great partnership between the colleges, the University and community’. The Sports Service nominated the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and CPSL Mind as their charities, and these went on to raise around £80,000 through the Half Marathon.

Nick highlighted the role sport of any level can play in improving people’s university experience. It’s often through sports teams that people ‘really find common interest’ and make good friends. Sport is not just about the game, but also ‘social engagement, wellbeing, and health’ – both physical and mental. Lucy has also been ‘looking at working with the SU more with regard to the student loneliness report’. She stressed how this is not only about ‘high-level Blues athletes’, but ‘someone enjoying doing some exercise or some activity’ of any kind is equally significant.

Top tips

University of Cambridge Sport

Lucy is passionate about wanting to ‘re-engage people’ and thinks it would be great to ‘put together something that colleges can deliver’, that’s ‘on people’s doorsteps’, ‘easy to do and fun, and all about the social and participation level’, while ensuring ’there is a pathway through to do something a bit more competitively, should someone wish to’.

Lucy suggested people talk to their JCR, the sports clubs, or the Sports Service themselves. Ashley also recommended the sports fairs which showcase everything going on in Cambridge sport. Lucy made the important point that it can feel overwhelming as a fresher but these ‘opportunities are available to students throughout their whole Cambridge life’.


Mountain View

Lack of modernation on the Mens' Blues Committee

It was really interesting talking to the Sports Service about all the work they do - hopefully, next term there’ll be the chance to enjoy all these opportunities!

Get in touch with Cam FM Sport to hear the full interview.