College sport is one of countless ways to enjoy watching amateur sportsFIONA GILSENAN WITH PERMISSION FOR VARSITY

As someone who used to spend extensive amounts of time watching professional sports, I have recently felt increasingly uneasy about my enthusiasm for prominent sporting events. Admittedly, a lot of the short-form media I consume is still made up of elite athletes running at speeds I can hardly comprehend, aesthetic rowing reels featuring international rowers, or just some sort of elite sports highlight. However, the days when I would spend entire weekends watching Six Nations rugby and maintain an active interest in professional sports are over. Now, you’re more likely to find me on the bank of the Cam waiting to spot the next Corpus boat race.

“Professional sports do not exist in a realm independent from considerations of environmental justice”

In treating sports as a form of escapism, they can easily avoid accountability from very real issues. Professional sports do not exist in a realm independent from considerations of environmental justice, yet people too easily turn a blind eye towards these. One such consideration is frequent flight, which often slips under our noses in the context of the sporting industry. The 2024 calendar is completely packed with professional sporting events across the globe: 24 F1 races, 15 Diamond League athletics meets, 19 ATP and WTA 1000 tennis tournaments the list goes on. As a result, professional athletes are constantly travelling by air to their next venue with minimal pushback. While we drink from paper straws, they are flying dozens of times a year to attend competitions.

Not only do constant international competitions require athletes to travel long distances ridiculously frequently, but they take away from the uniqueness of the big competitions the World Cups, World Championships and Olympics of the sporting world. I do not wish to see the decline of these special occasions, as they encapsulate what international sporting events should be. However, bringing together the best athletes from across the world to compete on a special occasion loses its niche if these very same athletes are already competing against each other every other week and racking up air mileage while doing so.

The sad reality is that the professional sports industry, in its current state, encourages excessive consumption without accountability, which sports enthusiasts should be more aware of. On the bright side, the solution is remarkably simple watching more amateur sports instead. Whether it’s through a university, college or local sports club, there are countless opportunities to watch sporting events without the flaws of professional sports. The UK boasts around 150,000 grassroots sports clubs and Cambridge University alone offers over 70 different sports, many of which hold frequent home fixtures. To top this off, amateur sports are (almost) always free to watch.

“Amateur sports are often highly competitive and can make a nail-biting watch”

What then do you have to lose by taking some time out of your day to watch a local sports match instead of one which is televised? The standard will undeniably be lower, but does that really matter? Watching football teams park the bus or rugby players play kick tennis can make you realise that there is nothing inherently thrilling about a sport being played at an elite level. At the same time, amateur sports are often highly competitive and can make a nail-biting watch. One could even speculate that if more people watched and got involved with grassroots sports, the quality would substantially improve as a result.

Amateur, grassroots sports provide sports enthusiasts with an opportunity to engage with their friends and community. It is quite perplexing that many people are so willing to watch athletes they will never interact with on screens, while refusing to watch their own friends or community take part in the exact same sport. There is a certain intimacy to watching your local team from up close and cheering on your friends from the side which simply cannot be replicated dozens of rows up in a stand or on TV.


Mountain View

Emmanuel crowned champions in hotly contested netball Cuppers

Although amateur athletes compete more for their own enjoyment and less for external validation, a show of support for their work is never a bad thing. I have always felt pleasantly surprised whenever the audience for my very amateur sports endeavours has consisted of more than just that one teammate’s committed parents (whose attendance we are grateful for) and the odd dog-walker. A special kind of appreciation is reserved for those who endure the elements to come and watch your team get embarrassed for the seventh week in a row.

Next time you crave some sporting action, maybe consider heading to your sporty friend’s next match instead of your laptop. You might even make their day when they spot you on the sidelines.