Candidate Interview: Thomas Provan, VP Sports Development

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In the run up to the 2016 SUSU elections, the Wessex Scene team have been interviewing the candidates running for sabbatical positions. Here, I interview Thomas Provan hoping to become the next VP Sports Development.

Why are you running for this role?

I’ve been on Athletic Union Committee (AUC) for two years, I’ve also been part of the martial arts clubs for two years, so I’ve spent a lot of time within the sporting community. I therefore began to get quite heavily involved with all the proceedings in the AUC and the AU as a whole; whether that be going to funding meetings or varsity meetings. When I first came into university life, I knew nothing about the AU, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as AUC.

Two years later I now have a wealth of experience, and so I thought I would take this one step further. Being part of AU, I of course have a lot of frustrations and indeed have plenty of friends with them too. So I want to use my experience to hopefully step into the role and really tackle these issues that I and so many others have.

A big part of your manifesto is obviously trying to make sports massage available to athletes. How would you a.) fund this? b.) ensure its free for athletes, and c.) What’s the point of the uni providing it if most people can get it free on the NHS/have private care?

Starting with why the university should do be providing this, for physiotherapy often to get physiotherapy on the NHS, it can take a long time to sort out and you often have to have a very serious injury for them to provide physiotherapy at all and therefore many people don’t bother with it which can de detrimental for them later in life. It has to be remembered that although they love doing it, our athletes are doing it in part for the university. Therefore, I think that if you injure yourself whilst representing the university, the university should be able to provide some form of welfare for you, I mean isn’t that what this new ‘Team Southampton brand is supposed to be about?

In terms of funding the sports massage side of what I discuss on my manifesto, physiotherapy students often get offered to do additional courses outside of their degree. They have to do a number of free hours in which they get certain training and put into practice what they have learned. Therefore, we have a group of students who need people to train their sports massage on, and a group of sportsmen who need this treatment, that to me seems to match up very nicely! In terms of keeping it free or at least relatively cheap, perhaps sports clubs or sportsmen can offer a bit of cash, as I know there are a lot of sportsmen within the university who wouldn’t mind paying a little bit for this treatment. But I think it will be a low cost service that could be implemented quite easily.

On the physiotherapy side of things, I think this will be a bigger issue. Now, I am not a complete idealist, I’m not saying that I am going to walk in and everything will be sorted within a year, but I do have good hopes that the physiotherapy department here at the university will end up using AU students with injuries as part of their teaching and training. I think we could potentially create a ‘drop-in’ system where members of the physiotherapy faculty are present with students, and AU students can come in for an hour and get their injuries diagnosed.

All sorts of clubs get injuries from low-contact fencing to full-contact rugby. This will therefore be a policy that can hopefully benefit all of the AU clubs. Currently there only exists the £35 physiotherapy sessions with Sport & Wellbeing which is unaffordable for students. The policy I envisage can provide a better alternative to what’s currently available, and can be something that can be implemented straight away or at least be put into place during my time should I be elected.

Another year, another elections and yet another sport candidate who says he will reform the gym membership scheme at Southampton. How will you guarantee this reform, when so many others before you have promised this and failed?

I’m from a club background where this issue really hits quite hard. The martial arts clubs in general use only the martial arts studio, which in reality is just a dirty sweat-box with pads on the wall. People within the clubs particularly, often just train their martial arts and don’t ever use the gym, yet to use these facilities they have to pay £155 a year, it’s pretty horrific really if you think that they only use one room. This isn’t to say that £155 isn’t a good deal, but only if you use all the facilities!

You therefore have a lot of people who are not interested in gym fitness and being all about “dem gains”, they just want to play a sport. Therefore, the Sport & Wellbeing membership is really hard hitting to those sorts of people. My predecessors have often been from backgrounds of bigger clubs, where yes it is a problem for them, but not to such an extent.

I know that currently, Sport & Wellbeing are looking into this issue at the moment, although I have heard rumours of what the outcome of this investigation might be, and I personally am not happy with it. I cannot go into much more detail unfortunately. I think it’s great that Sport & Wellbeing are looking into this issue, but they are looking into it with their financial advisors, their managers and lawyers, and they’re not looking into it with the students. We have loads of students who are really enthusiastic about their sport and can see all the issues that this ‘all-or-nothing’ membership causes and they should be the people trying to persuade these people to change it. It shouldn’t be just the VP Sports campaigning this issue because it just dilutes it.

Do you think it puts people off playing sport, particularly at an intra-mural level?

Yes I do. If the intra-mural system was monitored effectively, then the numbers of people playing I think would be massively down as there are those who still play despite note having memberships. Furthermore, I know that all the intra-mural clubs are not happy particularly in getting their players to pay the memberships considering all the problems going on up at Wide Lane with drainage etc. Just look on the InterMural Facebook page and it is littered with people complaining.

A lot of issues on this, particularly from the intra-mural aspect ultimately boil down to issues with Sport & Wellbeing, but they end up complaining to SUSU. You just end up thinking looking at this that there would be a real desire to end up boycotting this and having a load of players refusing to pay the membership.

There are too many steps in trying to change things within the AU. Say a club has a problem, they report to the AU officer, who then has to report to the VP Sports, who then has to take it across to a Sport & Wellbeing manager who says after all those steps “I’ll look into it”, it’s just too many steps between the people who can sort problems with those who have the problems in the first place. There are just too many problems with communication in Sport & Wellbeing, you have no idea who is ultimately responsible in sorting your problems as there are too many steps.

Would you perhaps look to centralise the communication aspect of it, and make Sport & Wellbeing a little ‘less faceless’?

Yes, I really like that phrase ‘less faceless’, I think that is a good way to look at the problem. I would just love to do it so you have an open meeting- like lecturers have office hours- where it is just me and a Sport & Wellbeing manager sitting in a room, and athletes can come in with whatever issues they have. The meeting would be heavily advertised to AU and Intra-mural clubs, and even recreational users, and they can say their piece and we will discuss it. That sort of constant communication will be something that will be far more effective as those people will be able to convey their passion and frustration with these issues rather than it just coming from the VP in an email. Sport & Wellbeing should have just as much countability as an other department or faculty within the university.

Returning to the point at hand then, do you realistically see a potential reform as something you can guarantee?

It’s annoying as I’d like to get more involved wit the current investigation that I said is currently taking place, but I think I can reform the Sport & Wellbeing membership. I think that what is going on at the moment with that investigation will ultimately play out into my term should I be elected.

The issues up at Wide Lane are another big aspect of your manifesto. Like with the gym memberships, how will you guarantee that the wide lane drainage issue will be fixed, and do you envisage it being sorted in your time should you be elected? Furthermore, you state how there have been a lot of injuries which could have been prevented through communication and coordination between students and S&W, what do you mean by this?

I wanted to keep that last point quite vague in my manifesto as I didn’t want to name particular people. But, there are examples where the grass hasn’t been cut down to a safe level and people have suffered injuries consequently, or days where earlier games are not cancelled but later ones are due to weather, and players end up playing it ultimately risks conditions and there are examples where people have been injured as a consequence. So there are issues where if Sport & Wellbeing had listened to peoples complaints then these sorts of things could have been avoided.

But returning to the issue of Wide Lane drainage, it is an issue that again is being put through the works and is I believe in the universities budgeting, it’s such a big investment that it is beyond Sport & Wellbeing and the AU, but I know it is in the plans.

If it is something then that is at a higher level then, what can you personally do about it if you were to be elected?

Shout and scream, come to them with cases of injuries or the number of games called off caused by mismanagement of Wide Lane. If you scream and shout about it that’s all well, but if you come to them with actual evidence then they will be more likely to make a change. I mean, particularly with injuries this university doesn’t want to get sued, so it is a good way to manipulate the university into making a change and an investment that is ultimately for the good of students, so that is what I would ultimately do on this issue.

How do you think you will be able to ‘seek out open spaces within the university’ or indeed create more space, and ensure that sports clubs get the priority?

The allocation within the sports clubs needs to be a bit more fair. There are some clubs with too few members that get too much time, and there are some clubs that have many members and are taking up too little time. I am willing to point out the faults in the sports clubs for the good of everyone within the university, as far as things like the balance between the different zones who need the spaces, there is a lot of debate as to who will get it and why they should get it. I think that is an issue that the VP DCI and the other sabb’s need sit down and talk about as it will be an issue that will continue to grow.

However, saying that, there are loads of little spaces throughout the university that are not being used effectively enough. For example, say a groups has six people who want to use the activities room within SUSU, they should instead be making use of say the space in unused lecture theatres. I mean the space at the front of the main lecture theatre in building 32 is massive, and probably bigger than the space in the activities room itself, they could have taken that rather than taking away the activities room from those who really need it. Out of habit, people think that the SUSU building is the best place to go therefore rather than making effective use of other little spaces throughout the university.

I really also want to get effective use of Garden Court going too, sports and performing arts really need to try and get access to this as it is a huge space which so many societies could exploit, I will definitely do a lot therefore to try and get that into the block booking system. Other spaces too I would try to replicate this with, spaces at Bolderwood, Glen Eyre, Monte etc., we need to make sure the right clubs are sent to the right space.   

Debates over funding were a huge part of the VP Sports race last year, with some candidates even stating that lots of clubs often misusing or be unaware of funds, or indeed there being clubs currently in massive debt. Can you just explain to us how the funding system is changing and what you personally plan to do with the issue of funding?

The system is changing in that clubs are going to have to give a lot more detail about their current finances when they submit an application. So they will effectively submit their application with a  financial plan and also their bank statement to us to show how much money they possess and what they plan to do in the future. This will help clear up issue of which clubs should have the priority when it comes to funding. The whole issue of club debt is something that has only come into my field of vision in the last few months and is something that is kept quite hidden by SUSU, I was really shocked that this was the case with so many clubs.

However, I want to tie in the issue of kit a bit more with the issue of funding and particularly where it is stored. Take an example of the football club, say they apply for a load of footballs, currently the AU can only see how many they have applied for in the past, it needs to change so that we can see how many they actually possess and where these are being stored. It will therefore stop mismanagement of funds and centralise the system of inventory of AU clubs.

At the moment, this funding system change will be private in regards to the fact that only the VP Sport and maybe the AU officer will only have access to this. This I appreciate is a debatable aspect, particularly in the AUC, as to how far this should be transparent. I mean from a previous AUC meeting I know that a certain club is getting £9,000 of stuff, which is currently more than what all the 14 martial arts clubs combined get at the moment, around £6,000. The disparity between the two areas is huge! I know that if I told the martial arts clubs this they would be furious, but then, at the same time they don’t realise they don’t realise how some clubs actually need more money. The transparency debate therefore could cause some tension between clubs in the union, but at the same time is something I would want to promote.

Finally, the issue of ‘lad culture’ is something that has been something that has perhaps not been addressed by any VP Sports in the past, do you think that is something that needs to change or at least needs to be highlighted more? And would you look to implement any policies on this issue?

Look, I am someone who is heavily involved in my club, we are very social and often go out on the jolly. But, I personally don’t drink, and I have a very harsh line with anyone who goes over the line with their actions on a night out. I mean that’s why I set-up a self defence class for girls particularly who are concerned about guys who get overly aggressive or abusive towards them on a night out. But, I think within sports clubs, you naturally get a lot of charismatic and big characters who all congregate together, and of course, that can be a bit intimidating to people. But I want to emphasise that it’s not the sport that creates the culture, but rather the charismatic people at times who take things too far.

I can understand why the hockey clubs the rugby clubs of the AU get a bit of a bad name at times, but you have to remember they are so closely knit as a club they’re almost like family, but that bonding experience is unfortunately all over drink. I mean, you don’t need that to bond, but that is what these clubs choose to do and I personally cannot do that on my own: try and implement a core psyche change. But, I can ensure, that the moment anything sexist, racist, homophobic or sexually aggressive is reported to me I will clamp down on it straight away. Club captain’s need to know this is the case and I would hope they know this anyway. I mean this isn’t just confined to the AU, but if you are on an AU social and you are getting drunk you need to keep that factor in your head that if you step out of line everyone in your club will suffer.

Is there anything in particular that you would want to implement then to force this? I mean a candidate last year proposed the idea of a code of conduct which all clubs would have to sign if they wanted to be AU affiliated. Would you want to bring something in as formal as this, or would it be more verbally stated?

I think that is a good idea, but I do not want to be too intrusive of how clubs run. It’s not right as not all clubs run in the same way. I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable in me as VP Sports introducing such a code, but it would be something that I would bring in if all clubs universally agreed upon the idea. One thing that I would love to do actually, is to have more AU meetings with all the clubs as is the case only currently at the AU AGM, to really discuss these sorts of issues. This issue should not be decided by one person alone, AU clubs should be allowed to and indeed know how to police themselves. Of course if they break clear guidelines, I will happily step in and throw the book at them, and that goes for any club.

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Jack Pethick. Sport Editor 2014-2016. Third-Year History student. Mainly write for the Sport section but dabble in writing News and Features. General Armchair pundit and lover of all things Sport. #WouldDoABetterJobThanCarragher

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