VP Sports Candidate Interview with Samuel Tweedle

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Wessex Scene interview Samuel Tweedle, who is running for the role of VP Sports in the 2020 SUSU Spring Elections.

Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Sports? 

I’ve got a few reasons. The first one is that I love sport at the uni – all kinds of sports. I’m a water sports person at heart but I’ve seen the good that sport has done for every single person within the Athletic Union, in intramural, and across the board through my work on the AUC (the Athletic Union Committee). And I’ve seen how much good sport has done at the uni. On the other hand, I’ve got the pleasure of knowing a lot of people from a lot of different committees and there’s been a massive feeling this year that the relationship between SUSU and a lot of clubs maybe hasn’t been as good as it could have been. There’s been various issues – that relationship does seem to have really deteriorated this year and I would really like to be the person to try and repair that relationship because our clubs are brilliant. The people that run our clubs are brilliant and SUSU should really be there for them a lot more than it perhaps has been in the past.

What experience do you have that would make you a good fit for the role?

I’ve had a variety of experiences. Through the AUC I know how a lot of stuff works behind the scenes, but at the same time I’ve been the Treasurer and then the President of the Canoe Club, so I’ve seen it from on the ground. I know the frustrations from running a club within the uni: there are lots of times where you’re sort of bashing your head against a brick wall, so I’d like to try and remove some of those walls where I can. On top of that, I have also got five years’ experience of working part time and professionally within the sports industry, assisting with the running of water sports centres, so I hope this will bring some of that commercial experience in as well. We’re a charity – a brilliant charity – but there are always things we can learn from each other in terms of how we run ourselves, so I hope that this experience will stand me in good stead.

We’ve already discussed a few problems that are currently associated with the role, but how would you go about fixing that?

Before we start drilling down into the particular issues that clubs are finding, I think that across the board, clubs don’t feel like SUSU are trusting them which is a massive shame because we’ve got a lot of brilliant people running the clubs and SUSU should be in their corner. There’s been a few particular issues where trust has gone this year, the first one being around socials. Lots of clubs run lots of different socials and I am never going to be the person that stands up and says, ‘Go be really horrible to your freshers and it’s brilliant,’ because it absolutely isn’t. However, the way some things have been handled this year has been very ‘us against them’, where SUSU has swooped in. The perception on the ground is that they’ve now moved the goalposts; clubs used to know where they stood and what wasn’t okay, and the goalposts have massively changed this year without much warning, and then SUSU has come in like a tonne of bricks on some clubs. Do I think things need to change? Potentially they do. Was the way of going about the change the right way? I would say it maybe wasn’t. So, what I would want to do in the role is – and there’s actually a lot of research around this from Universities UK, and academic sources, saying that zero tolerance does not work. It destroys trust and when you want a culture of openness, the second you destroy trust, it’s a bit of a dichotomy really. You don’t want everyone to lose all the trust if you want to make things better. So, what I think we need to be doing is rather than having SUSU punishing clubs from their point of view, we need to have a conversation over the summer. We need to get the clubs on board, we need to get their feelings because there are a lot of different feelings around this issue, and it is an issue. The clubs’ feelings are just as valid as the feelings of the people within SUSU and we’ve got to have that conversation, find that common ground and solution, which everyone can feel takes their point of view into account. Then if we do that, people are going to accept it because they are part of making it so that is where I wanted to come from on it. Everyone will have to compromise on it because that’s the nature of it, but the point is that we are then doing it as a team – we’re not seeking to punish people. We would see this as an opportunity to learn and for it to be a collaborative process together.

How would you increase participation of students in sport at a casual and elite level?

One of key barriers that I can see for participation in sport is around the cost of it. SUSU has done a good job this year in lobbying to get the sports pass down to 50 quid and that is absolutely brilliant. The people that have managed to do that have done an amazing job, however, can it go much lower than that? I’ll try and lobby it lower, but it’d be a very hard ask. So what I’d want to do instead is like Exeter uni where they have managed to create a bursary programme going to their alumni for support because there’s a lot of alumni that had really great sports experiences at uni and are in a position where they might want to give something back, and Exeter have found that in a really positive way. What they do is if they have students who are receiving student-hardship funds for their studies and do it in a means test sort of way, but they can give a bursary thanks to that alumni support to enable those students to participate in sports. But the money can be spent on sports and wellbeing, on club memberships, can be spent on going to events as long as it was spent on sport and that is something that I’d want to implement for those students who find that the cost of doing sport is prohibitive. There is also the free sport programme; I would like to see if there was anything, I could do to extend that. Either with SUSU running stuff or if clubs would want to run additional tasters to get more members in, but also to provide a bit of free sport in the process. The only thing I’m passionate about is not increasing the workload on clubs so I would not turn round to a club and say, ‘You must run this,’ but if there are clubs that would want to do that then I would also try and facilitate that as much as I possibly could.

So, you’ve addressed the cost of the sports and wellbeing pass which is a big concern surrounding sport at the uni, but how will you work to improve the University’s sporting performance?

There are a variety of things that can improve sporting performance. The first one is, the more you fund it, the better the results. Generally, that’s how it tends to be as a correlation within that. There is the sports experience board and in strategy at the minute which the university is talking about, so it’s about moving some sports over to the university to be able to get a bit more funding. I would seek to be a check and balance on that to make sure that it’s achieving its intended outcomes, make sure it’s putting more money into sports and really supporting clubs more and to that next level. On top of that, one of the things that does at times hinder performance sports is when key men’s rugby team gets injured, for example. So, one of my manifestos and promises is working with local physiotherapy firms or with the health science department within the uni even, to try and get some injury prevention advice for clubs because, at the performance level, that means their players are getting injured less, they can train more, can do better at large competitions and, ultimately, improve our BUCS standing. But it will also mean that we can improve wellbeing for people as well because being injured really sucks – there’s no way to go around it – when you’re injured, you aren’t in the sport you love and it’s a bit of a rubbish time. So, it will also improve wellbeing as well as our performance and it’s something I’m really passionate about trying to get done.

We’ve covered a lot of things that you think are important, but what would be your top three areas of focus be if you were elected?

The first has to be restoring that relationship between clubs and SUSU. Socials is one way of improving that, but also just making sure that I’m in their corner. The next one would be sorting out where things are going slightly wrong with how we support intramural at the minute. So, we’ve got our Athletic Union and our intramural, which are two sides of the same coin. You’ve got A, which is about performance sport and also about the less-widely participated-in sports – water sports, extreme sports – as well as the team sports, and then you’ve got intramural, which is the casual team sports, playing for fun, competitive fun, but playing within the uni. And while the AUC has been brilliantly supported with the resources that the uni has, it seems in recent years that the intramural side has been less supported. What I’d want to do about that is making sure that we are advertising and giving the same push that we are to the AU. For example, on the website, we’ve got sports and then we’ve got in a page that’s slightly separate and hard to find we’ve got the intramural sports. What I just want is sports to go, ‘We’ve got our AU, we’ve got intramural, come and find out what they’re about,’ at the same time. Also at Bunfight, the intramural clubs are the only clubs within the entirety of SUSU which do not get a stall at Bunfight and, for me, that’s just really weird, that they’re not given the same opportunity to advertise themselves that other clubs are and they get given a separate Bunfight on the Thursday when a lot of students aren’t bothered to get out of bed for another Bunfight the day after Bunfight, especially given that it’s a Wednesday night the night before. What I want to do is put them on the same Bunfight and also, on top of that, if there are ways within the sports experience board to engineer (without taking away from the AU because that would seriously cause problems with the AU if they were to remove any funds from there), but I’d want to try and get additional funding for IM, which I think would be very achievable, given that the sports experience board, coming from the top of the uni, is all about participation and intramural really ticks that box.

There have also been a lot of concerns with the behaviour of sports teams this year – specifically with hazing, initiations and accusations of racism. What needs to change? How will you address these issues in your role? 

It comes back a little bit more to what I was saying about trusting clubs and about having that dialogue because, if you are just punishing, all clubs are going to do is that they’re just going to get better at hiding it. But if you have that dialogue, not in a ‘no blame’ culture but in a ‘just’ culture that you can learn from, then people make the improvements. And if they don’t make the improvements, that’s when you start really getting on their backs. I think things will start coming to the surface and we’ll actually see an improvement. I do think it’s quite sad though that we get a couple of clubs that tar the whole AU and the whole of intramural because we have got a lot of incredible clubs doing a lot of incredibly good stuff, so I hope it doesn’t damage everyone in the uni’s perception of sport because the vast majority of the sport at the uni is doing really good stuff.

Do you think there’s a way of preventing those sorts of incidents though? Like, for example, what changes need to be implemented so that these sorts of things can’t happen in the future?

It’s a difficult one because there is so many different factors involved in it. I think it can definitely be reduced and I think that is a very achievable aim to reduce the number of incidents which are happening. I think a dialogue with clubs at the end of the day, just turn around to them and say, ‘Look, do not do this,’ but giving the information in advance so clubs know where they stand. If you give clubs clarity, then it puts their committees in a position to be able to know.

There are some additional questions based on reading your manifesto. Why do you think that training for new committee members should be optional? Won’t that put them at a disadvantage when dealing with certain issues compared to other committee members who have had the training?

The reason I’m saying these things should be optional is because we’ve got such an incredibly diverse selection of clubs within the union as a whole. So, we’ve got some clubs that already have incredibly good handover procedures already in place. For example, I know a club where the new committee members work alongside the existing committee members for a month, they do an extended handover, they all get handover documents, they all get training to go with their role, and that’s done by the clubs. And SUSU, although it can do well, cannot tailor its training to each individual club, so I don’t think SUSU should be looking to replace that where clubs are doing stuff that is really good. However, there are some clubs which struggle a little bit more in the handover, for whatever reason, and that is where I think we should be looking to support them. So, it’s not about saying, ‘no one can opt out if things are slightly wrong,’ if there’s things that are really good, we aren’t going to make you change it and put other stuff in place which is less good because, to be honest, the clubs are going to keep doing the handovers anyway. All that would then do is increase the workload press on the committees, and committee workload is something which keeps creeping up because the way it seems to go is that every single person that comes into a role within SUSU has stuff they want to achieve, naturally, but the way that a lot of these things get achieved is by getting committees to do stuff. That’s one thing that I’m fairly keen that I want to avoid in the role. Committees have got enough on their plate; they spend time doing jobs. If you take, for example, the canoe club, a lot of the stuff that’s been done there will be something that if it were a commercial organisation, somebody with 20 years’ experience would be doing it. We want to be providing sport, but we also want to recognise that committees are incredibly busy, they’ve got their degrees alongside as well, we don’t want to be putting an extra workload onto committees. I think, as an organisation, that’s just wrong because they’re volunteers at the end of the day. It should be the paid staff, so that would be me if I get the sabbatical role, who are doing the leg work and making committees life as easy as possible.

The other two candidates have mentioned improving accessibility and inclusivity in sports. Do you have any ideas about how you would facilitate that in the role of VP Sports?

I mention in the manifesto, that I believe in reviewing the wide training with the VP Welfare. A lot of clubs this year have found that the wide training has been little use to them because it’s taking quite a simplistic view to it and it’s been quite – and I don’t like using the word ideological – but it’s been quite an ideas-based rather than a solutions-based approach to the training. For example, if we take the disability section of it, throughout my work in the water sports industry, I’ve worked with quite a lot of people with disabilities to get them out on the water and, throughout that, everything that gets emphasised is, ‘Go to National Governing Bodies for support.’ For example, there’s all this funding available and when I actually went to the disability in sport panel about a month ago, it was really interesting because that was so useful getting advice from people in sport who’ve got disabilities, and how to make the sport clubs more inclusive. I think that’s the approach that needs to be taken – reviewing the wide – so that rather than saying to clubs, ‘This is what morals you should have,’ which is what it tends to do at the minute, it should be saying to them and it should be assuming that everybody is already a very good person. People get on committees within the uni because they want to be getting people into their sport. It should take that as read and should start focusing on solutions which can improve the inclusivity. For example, the wide mentions absolutely nothing about national governing bodies as sources of extra funding which, in terms of actually making change and helping inclusivity, is fundamental because most clubs may not have the experience with the full range of people that they may need to help getting into the sport and it’s very sparse actually on knowing where to go for advice. I would want to try and review that a little bit and hopefully, if I can make it more solutions-orientated, clubs might feel a little bit better about doing it as well because at the minute, the perception across the AU about the wide training is pretty bad because they don’t think it’s relevant to them and doesn’t give them any solutions, it just gives them things to do without telling them, ‘This is how you go about doing it.’ By making that better, I would hope that firstly, the AU would feel a bit better about doing it because it’s a bit more useful to them and also it would have a bit more of an impact.

To find out more about Samuel Tweedle’s policies, read their manifesto here.

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  10. VP Welfare and Community Candidate Interview with Nicole Akuezumba
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  12. VP Welfare and Community Candidate Interview with Kayleigh Littlemore
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Head of Outreach 2019-20. Second year English student, passionate about many things especially dance, politics and history.

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