Big Issues In Sport: Hockey’s elitism problem

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Joining a sports team is my number one tip when people ask me how to make the best out of their time at uni. Of course there are loads of things to do outside of lectures, but for me, sports teams top the lot.

Image credit: Alex Cattrell, used with permission
Image credit: Alex Cattrell, used with permission

I’m a member of the university’s hockey club, which is one of the largest clubs that the university has. I’ve been playing hockey since I was nine, and I have no intention of stopping any time soon. I was on the committee this year, and I’m looking forward to joining a new club when I go on my year abroad. Especially for humanities students, joining a club like hockey is probably going to at least triple the amount of people you get to know at university, and the intense camaraderie that comes from being an active member of the club often leaves people feeling lost when they’ve graduated. Alumni days are revered.

Hockey offers something that football and rugby don’t. It doesn’t require the physicality of rugby (and doesn’t carry the same risk of injury, although I have witnessed a few teeth getting knocked out), and is much quicker (and exciting) than football. The athletic skill of top-level hockey players is a phenomenal sight, but what I enjoy most about the university club is that it’s members are genuinely nice people. There’s definitely a bit of a lad culture, but I know that I could have a good conversation with everyone in the club as well.

Free from the constraints of football and rugby’s many TV deals, it is easy to watch top-level hockey online (legally) for free, and over the last few years the camera work has improved dramatically; gone are the days where you could only see a match from one angle. Hockey is well and truly now a spectator’s sport.

For all of hockey’s many pros, however, it certainly has its cons as well. Chief amongst these is the amount of money that it drains out of you. Membership is expensive, as are socials, and there’s always something else you need to pay for as the season goes on. I was the club’s treasurer this year, so I appreciate how difficult keeping up with my constant nagging for subs, kit money and match fees can be, but for most people, money is no big deal. Despite hockey being the third-most played sport in the world, it inhabits a curiously posh status. Especially here in the UK and especially for men’s hockey.

While my (state) school only offered hockey to girls during PE, I was left with rugby and football. I learned to play hockey at my local club, with many of my teammates being the privately-educated kids of committed hockey-playing parents. It’s definitely a niche sport, and you get to know people very well, but it doesn’t have a wide appeal.

I know of a few people who’ve been put off by the high costs of the hockey lifestyle at university, and it’s a real shame to see people giving it up because they can’t afford it. Along with the university’s football and rugby teams, it is still a sport for the well off.

What can be done about this? Maintaining a hockey pitch is expensive (the cost of replacing the floodlights at the Wide Lane astro turf pitch was rumoured to be £1 million), and manufacturing sticks, balls and other equipment is always going to be an expensive process. But more can be done by local authorities, and even SUSU.

Over the last couple of years, the men’s club has struggled on the field a little, and I feel that access to better training facilities and more time training together (which SUSU allocates partly in accordance to how successful a club is) would dramatically improve the club’s results.

SUSU allocates more funding to more successful clubs. Whilst this policy does have some logic behind it, subsiding clubs’ expenses so that they draw a wider audience and can therefore be more successful seems to me to be a better way to go. Attracting a wider range of people to start playing hockey (which the university club already does very well) can help hockey shake off the reputation it has as being an elite sport.

The university’s sports teams generally don’t have a good reputation, especially from within publications such as the Wessex Scene. When Varsity comes round, attention is paid to results against Pompey, but generally the only articles that you’ll find about hockey, football and rugby are negative ones. If the Scene started following the hockey club a bit more throughout the year, and if the hockey club restarted its mid-season reviews, the sport might become more accessible to everyone.

 

 

More articles in Big Issues in Sport
  1. Big Issues In Sport: Mixed Gender Sport Teams – Exclusively Inclusive
  2. Big Issues In Sport: Hockey’s elitism problem
  3. Big Issues In Sports: Where Are America’s Black Sporting Voices?
  4. Big Issues In Sport: Is Football Institutionally Homophobic?
  5. Big Issues In Sport: Sport As An Antidote For Society’s Obsession With Physical Perfection
  6. Big Issues in Sport: Does Sport Have a Big Enough Place in Education?
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