Wessex Scene interviews Matthew Smith, who is running for the role of VP Sports in the 2021 SUSU Leadership Elections.
Why have you decided to run for the role of VP Sports?
Sport has always been a huge part of my life and since I started university, my favourite part of university life has always been sports. Every week just seems to be a wait until a BUCS Wednesday to meet up with my friends to play sport or go on a social. I want as many people as possible to feel the same passion and excitement I have about sport at the University of Southampton, which is exactly why I’ve decided to run for the role of VP Sports.
What experience do you have that would make you an excellent fit for the role?
I have gained vast amounts of experience in participating and leading sports clubs at the University, having filled the roles of Club Captain and Tour Sec at the Men’s Cricket Club and Men’s Vice-Captain at the Table Tennis club. These experiences have helped me [to]have a great understanding of the sometimes tricky logistics that can be required to run a sports club. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, effective recruitment strategies saw a large increase in participation at the Cricket club, going from below 70 to almost 100 members. This shows that I have been part of a club that has successfully increased participation despite everything going on. I would love to transfer these strategies that we used to all the other sports teams at Southampton to allow as many people as possible to get involved in sport.
I know all too well the struggle club members, committees and presidents have been through this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I think having someone who has run a club this year being elected to VP Sports would be a huge bonus; they would know exactly the support clubs need to help recover and this is something I have experienced throughout the past year.
What are the main problems you identify with the current role of VP Sports and how would you fix that?
Firstly, can [I] say that Sam, Corin and the rest of the activities team have done extremely well in what has been a hard year for everyone including sports clubs. I wouldn’t say I see a problem with the role of VP Sports, but more the relationship between SUSU and clubs. Although it has improved this year, the trust between clubs and SUSU remains fragile and can still be viewed as ‘us and them’.
One way I plan to tackle this is by dropping into committee meetings of clubs every so often so that I can get instantaneous feedback which will help me become aware of what clubs’ issues are without them having to come to me. For example, something that I know lots of clubs were angry about last year was charging £35 per person for the AU Ball which was taking place in a sports hall. This must change as it’s a celebration of everyone’s great achievements and people shouldn’t be put off by the price.
It has obviously been very difficult for sports societies to function this year; how do you intend to increase participation of students in sports societies – whether that be at online or in-person events?
Participation in sport at University is so important, especially in times like these, as it allows us to not only improve our physical fitness but also our mental health. Clubs offer so much to a uni experience through not only playing sport in the form of training and competitions, but also by participating in socials, making new friends, and creating great memories. So, I am extremely keen to support clubs and get as many people involved next year if elected, not only for the clubs’ benefit but also to improve individuals’ uni experiences which I believe sports clubs can massively impact in a positive way.
I know lots of clubs have struggled with participation this year, in some cases due to lots of activities being online. During my time as Club Captain of the Cricket club, I used some new participation tactics which turned out [to be]extremely successful for the club and is something I would love to share with clubs if elected. I am hoping next year that clubs will be able to run more in-person activity and I feel this will automatically increase participation as this year, activities such as the Bunfight didn’t have the same buzz as previous years and depending on restrictions, I am very keen to make the Bunfight one of the biggest days in the University calendar again. If elected, I will be committed to helping committees increase participation in a variety of ways.
One of the biggest concerns of students is that Sport & Wellbeing passes for both society and individual use are too expensive – how will you tackle that in your role?
Thanks to the hard work from both Sport & Wellbeing and Sam, the Sports Pass – which has historically been a massive blockade in participation in sport – was made free this year and this is something I will continue to lobby for, as forcing people to cough up a significant amount of money at the start of term really impacts participation and that’s something committees can all see.
In terms of individual use, I am glad that Sport & Wellbeing has offered much more affordable gym passes in recent years and the app has improved accessibility for lots of people. However, there is still work to be done, and if elected I look forward to working with Sport & Wellbeing to improve the quality and cost of individual gym memberships.
There have also been a lot of concerns with the behaviour of sports teams in recent years – specifically with hazing, initiations and accusations of racism. What needs to change? How will you address these issues in your role?
This is one of the reasons I am so keen to improve the trust between SUSU and clubs as with good dialogue between the two parties, issues like this can be resolved quickly and in a straightforward way. You can have open and honest conversations with clubs without having to chuck the rule book at them straight away. This approach in previous years has only led to clubs getting more frustrated and isolated, causing more incidents to occur, whereas good dialogue is all that is needed in most situations. If improvements were not made or the situation was serious enough such as accusations of racism, I think all clubs would agree that strong action would have to be taken, as this is not acceptable anywhere, especially in sports clubs at Southampton. Overall though, we have so many great clubs out there who put on amazing socials, whether that be in person or online, and they are a key part of societies with people often making new friends and memories through them.
How will you work to improve the University’s sporting performance?
Firstly, there is no doubt that there is a correlation between funding and sporting performance as without adequate funds, lots of clubs will be put in a position where they cannot afford a coach which is a massive disadvantage. So, increasing funding for clubs, which is something being set out in the coronavirus recovery plan, will help increase sporting performance. Another way I want to improve the University’s sporting performance is by encouraging clubs and individuals to utilise all the areas of support Sport & Wellbeing have in place, such as club fitness sessions, nutrition advice and lots more. This is something I feel most people do not use enough and increasing the knowledge around this will help people reduce the risk of injury while also improving sporting performance.
If you were elected, what would be your top three areas of focus?
My first main area of focus would be on improving the relationship between clubs and SUSU. As mentioned earlier, it is vital that clubs and SUSU work in tandem as without this, there is no way we as a university will be able to fulfil our potential when it comes to sporting activity. The main way I plan to do this is by taking a more proactive approach in gaining feedback from all the hardworking committees, so that we can resolve issues and concerns clubs may have before they start to affect the club’s performance. My second area of focus would be increasing participation in sport; there are several ways I believe this can be done, but one particular way I feel this can be achieved is by improving the Bunfight whether that be in-person or online. My final area of focus would be supporting committees and club members, many of whom may never have played in a BUCS game during their two years at uni; this can be easily achieved by ensuring committees have received sufficient handover documents and if not, supporting them through any processes they may be unsure of that come with running a sports club.
In your manifesto you mention wanting to improve the communication between SUSU and Sports clubs, can you expand on how you intend to do this?
Of course, I have mentioned it a bit in previous questions, but the main way I aim to do this is by taking a more proactive approach in getting feedback from committees and members. Ultimately, quick and honest conversation is what clubs what from SUSU. This is something I feel in previous years has not been as good as it could be. Therefore, attending committee meetings every so often is just one way that the relationship and communication between clubs and SUSU can be improved, as getting this instant feedback means that any issues people can see arising can be dealt with before they snowball into a bigger problem.
All sports societies have faced large cuts this year, how do you intend to help these clubs get back on their feet next year?
The coronavirus recovery plan for clubs, which is currently being worked on by Sam and lots of the activities team at SUSU, will hopefully give a clear idea of what clubs see as their priorities and how these issues are going to be tackled. I will continue to work on and implement this plan if elected. This plan will focus on lots of elements that aim to help clubs recover from what has been a hard year, whether that be through improving funding or offering support to committees, as it is inevitable that, due to COVID-19, lots of club committee roles may end up unfilled and this is something that I plan to help support clubs through if elected.