In the run up to the 2015 SUSU election, the Wessex Scene team have been interviewing the candidates running for sabbatical positions. Here, I interview Stephen Barratt, hoping to win his place as VP Sports Development.
In the opening section of your manifesto, you describe how you believe the next few years should be about building and consolidating upon the ‘good work’ that has been done to develop Team Southampton thus far. Can you define for me exactly what you mean by the ‘good work’?
I think that the work that’s been done to create the ‘Team Southampton’ brand- and I’m reluctant to call it a brand- rather an identity if you will for all clubs, is a step in the right direction. I think currently, it exists on a fairly superficial basis, and what I mean by that is that there is a kit, which the current Sports VP Katie Lightowler has been encouraging various AU teams to wear. That is something that needs to be University wide, every sports team needs to be wearing the same kit, if you are going to have any sort of unified identity. You have to look at what is the point of having ‘Team Southampton’?
In my manifesto, I talk a lot about harmonisation, and that basically means that all the teams have a strategy which is based upon similar lines. So, for example, it will be along the lines of bringing in professional coaches and having strong first teams. Whilst I’m not going to interfere too closely with the affairs of committees, because I simply won’t have time to do that, what I do want is the same set of standards for every team: values, standards and objectives, these will be the key.
If elected, I will pay pretty close attention to the books. I don’t want money to be wasted within the AU, if things can be done more efficiently by working together. I think that’s where we need to head: more efficient use of facilities.
I think that this more efficient use comes about by all the teams within the AU talking with one another, and basically, becoming so much more efficient collectively. The only way that this is going to happen is by first having decent administrative control by the AU, and also by the teams themselves.
If you wan’t to know what I’ll be bringing to this role, it’s going to be about management. It’s not going to be about a load of vote winning strategies like selling gym memberships at different prices. I mean, I can look at that. But something I think I bring- which the others perhaps don’t is an ability to look at the whole of Team Southampton, look at the whole of the AU and Sport and Wellbeing, and make the whole thing run more efficiently together. I’m about realistic ideas and fairly simple methods, basically what a consultant would do: work out where we’re wasting money, work out where we can be more efficient, etc. I am more that kind of a player than I am ‘let’s wave a flag around and get you 20% off your gym membership’. That ultimately makes me different.
There have been some criticisms in recent years that the AU and SUSU are in a way very separate entities. How would you say your policies aim to unify the two more clearly, if at all?
I just think that there isn’t quite enough attention being paid as to how the teams spend there money. I know that there is a grant system, but, I know- because I have spoken to presidents and have been involved in clubs- that certain clubs have quite a lot of money available that is just sitting around for ‘a rainy day’ as it were. I think we need to really make sure that this grant money is spent on what it ultimately is being granted for.
I also would like to pay coaches centrally, I think this is crucially important. I think there needs to be a certain degree of separation between the team and the coach. I think that it would be good for the progress of the individual sports and also for the credibility and professionalism of the coaches if they are paid centrally by team Southampton, rather than by treasures on the committees. I know quite a few coaches who have struggled to get money off of the student treasurers as, ultimately, they are students who have a lot of financial stress, and therefore can’t always pay the money on time for whatever reason. I think that putting a student in that sort of a relationship with a professional coach is one that is not particularly healthy. I therefore think it would be a lot better if they were paid centrally.
I personally feel that if the centralised unit is very efficiently run, then you can profit quite a lot from this, but I mean it will always be a dialogue between the clubs. I don’t think it’s horribly bad now, I just think that there are a lot of good and simple improvements that can be made.
How do you aim to achieve this balance you discuss in your manifesto, of keeping clubs autonomous yet at the same time unifying them? Is it about- what you just touched on there- allowing clubs to keep their own values and direction as a club as you mentioned briefly then, but the financial side and being a brand is something more centralised?
I personally would like every club to sign a contract with Team Southampton if they want to be affiliated with the AU. This contract will mean that they abide by certain things. I am not going to say this is something I’m definitely going to do, it would have to be drafted in meetings and be approved. But lets say for example that I did. I would want to make sure that no athletes would do anything that would bring the AU and the Union into disrepute. You would make sure that they wore a unified kit, I think this would be key to have as a centralised thing. I personally would like to remove kit secretaries from the clubs, I just think that kit is something else that the clubs shouldn’t really have to deal with, we could just do it centrally and get all the kit delivered at one time and ‘job done’.
I think you would really have to think carefully about what else would be in this contract, but aside from the contract then yes I would allow the clubs a huge degree of discretion as to what they want to do. All the Presidents and Captains can bring in a huge expertise and ideas that I don’t have. But, these ideas need to be fed back into Team Southampton. I would therefore aim to have meetings with president’s and coaches on a much more regular basis.
Also, the degree of alcohol consumption amongst first team athletes needs to fall. That I know is not a popular policy, I am not running on that. I’m happy to booze as much as the next person, but sometimes I think within the AU – it goes too far.
In what way then would you go about regulating and monitoring these proposed contracts?
Well of course they can break the contract if they want to, but they have to accept that there will be consequences. Perhaps one would be stopping people from playing for first teams if they go out and drink and steal say a traffic item which they were arrested for or went on tour and had a load of locals complain about them. I just think that if we are going to be taken seriously as a proper and professional sports franchise then we need to have set standards that represent the University. The University centrally is going to be pretty keen on this idea I think, because I’m sure they don’t want our athletes bringing them into disrepute.
I want a club or being a member of a first team to really mean something to people. People ultimately respect things more if you make a bit of a sacrifice for it. Any American University signs a contract with their athletes. Some even do it here in the UK, take Loughborough or Bath for example.
You discuss briefly how you aim to provide support and resources to the Intra-Mural officer. Could you perhaps give some details on how you propose to do this? Would they have free reign?
I think that being able to delegate is really important. I am not someone who likes to control everything, I think that’s something that would be extremely counter-productive and would completely over-work me. What I would like to be available to do though, is always be available for any disputes that may arise, particularly over facilities bookings. There is nothing more infuriating as a sportsman than being told 5 minutes before a game that you can’t play as the pitch is double-booked. I want these issues to end. I want to be able to make sure that there are always back-up plans in place by me to aid that intra-mural officer should he need my help. I do fundamentally think however, that he has to know that he has the authority to do things.
I can’t build sport pitches in a year, but what I can do is work with local schools to deal with these facility issues. There are a number of lit astroturf pitches in Southampton that we can use commercially or obtain them for our own use. One of the things that I discuss in my manifesto is this idea of ‘Outreach’. It will be a huge part of my strategy because we have to stop looking at sport here as something that is just restricted to university, we have to start looking holistically at the whole of Southampton and its community. If we want Team Southampton to be taken seriously- including intra-mural- then we have to reach out and inspire the school kids who are going to be university students in 10 years time, and I want them to look at our athletes and go ‘wow’, for them to feel like it’s something that they want to aspire to. It will be a great experience I think for our athletes to go out into the schools and the community and give coaching classes. I think that we have in a sense an obligation to the community, in turn it will mean lots more schools will want to cooperate with our requests for pitches.
Of course I will want to give the intra moral officer as much free reign as possible, he will have his own ideas and want to direct it in the way he wants to. But I want to make sure he’s got my backing as well as the authority in order to get things done.
Sport and Wellbeing are of course going to be the lynchpin, certainly with regards to facilities. Crucially, we need them on side, and I think- as I mentioned earlier- that I bring to the table the ability to analyse and manage, but I’ll also be taken seriously by those in management positions within Sport and Wellbeing. I think I have the ability to know what is realistic, which to a certain extent only comes with age. I’m going to be 26 by the time it comes to next year, so I’m basically the old man of the election!
Now, the ‘Outreach’ programme that you touched on there, is that part of the wider marketing campaign that you discuss in your manifesto? You discuss only about how you intend to utilise the media outlets. How can they market for you if they have to be objective in their coverage. Could you explain in more depth about this policy?
I want to stress that marketing is important, but, marketing is only important if you have substance behind it. I’ve already discussed at length how I’m going to achieve substance, but when we’ve done that, we have to make sure that everyone knows that we have the substance and that we’re running things properly and that these initiatives are happening. I believe that it is everyone’s interests that we have a reputable student newspaper that is creating quality journalism. Luckily, we have the Wessex Scene, because I mean well the SotonTab… well that’s just something else. But, I’d like that if we have good results, then we publish stories and let people know about it. I think that currently we have a good social media presence, but to add to this, I’d like to see a scoreboard- perhaps on the big TV screen on a Wednesday- which shows the good results up. I know that they are currently developing an AU website, which is important, but I don’t think that will be up within the next year. But this in turn will only be key as long as it’s linked to social media.
This Team Southampton thing that I have been discussing in great length now is based as I’ve said on American universities, and the successes also of the likes of team Loughborough, Durham and Bath. They actually get people turning up to watch their matches, I wan’t people to care about whether or not our Rugby and Football team are winning every week or not. I was at Durham before I came to Southampton, and everyone genuinely cared about how the Rugby boys were doing. Success will breed this, but, I think that having a strong identity and having a Team Southampton kit around campus will aid this too.
I don’t know what your readership is actually, but I imagine it’s quite a few people. If you published say a big picture on the front of say our swim team winning a trophy, people would be saying ‘Oh look we’ve got a swim team and we actually do some quite cool stuff’. So what I want is a lot more of a closer relationship, but I mean it sounds like SUSU own you anyway so maybe I’ll just tell you what to write (joke). I totally fundamentally disagree with total editorial control of what should be an independent student newspaper. Definitely print that!
What I want though is for us to have a dialogue and for you to want to print the stuff that we’re doing. What I will and am happy to do, is give the media a document every Wednesday afternoon with all the results on, and send summaries of each match. But I am not going to tell you what to print based on that, if you want to print something that paints the AU terribly, then that’s not a problem with me. I’d rather you did that, because it makes us seem more transparent and credible. I mean if you think that one of our teams for example, has behaved shockingly on a night out or whether you think there is a culture of misogyny within one of our teams then I’m not gonna tell you not to print it. I want you be able to hold account organisations like SUSU not be run by them. I think currently, it is quite frankly an absolute joke!
At one point in your manifesto you talk about increasing participation in minority groups. Do you currently think therefore that there is currently not enough diversity in the AU?
I think it’s quite interesting because I actually did some research and spoke to the LGBT about this. They actually told me some good news; that they felt that they were not at all being discriminated against in sport, something I found extremely positive to hear. I think that we certainly are a diverse university in terms of nationalities, I mean I don’t know the statistics in terms of how many people come from certain ethnicities. But I do think it’s worth having a conversation with these groups to make sure that they don’t feel that they are being discriminated against – they can come along to sessions. On a serious note I think that it is important to do this with a high level of discretion and professionalism, because otherwise you don’t want people to feel excluded.
I genuinely believe that there are great athletes at this University who aren’t playing sport. Not necessarily from specific ethnic backgrounds, but from all backgrounds. I’m sure that there are multiple reasons why they are not playing, but hopefully if they see this re-branded Team Southampton or that the teams are not as good as they think they are etc. then that will encourage them to play which can only be good for the AU.
At this point, I was about to end the interview, however, Stephen stopped me to ask if he could emphasise this one key point:
I really want you to print something about this: All of the other three candidates cover the idea of tiered gym memberships. I would happily look into people who play intra-mural sport once a week and just use a pitch to pay an intra-mural pitch and league fee. I know that many currently have to pay £145 to join Sport and Wellbeing when they often don’t use the gym. But, what I don’t want to do is to introduce a gym only membership or a pool only membership, because I think that it is currently such good value. To put it into context, the fee is one of the cheapest in the country and you get access to all the facilities with this. I just think that we should be encouraging the people that pay for the £145 gym membership to use all the facilities at their disposal and become more well-rounded sportsmen. I don’t want to lure in just casual gym users, because you can’t realistically reduce the membership by that much anyway. Also, I think that the last thing we really want to do is take away any further money from Sport and Wellbeing. If I’m trying to build a constructive relationship with them, I don’t want to be the guy who’s taking away half their revenue. There are 9,000 students who pay for Sport and Wellbeing membership, that’s a lot of money! I don’t know if it is even feasible to take away the intra-mural memberships, I’ll pledge to look into it.