Elinor Jones breaks down the AU’s High Performance Package and asks whether it does enough for non-funded but competitive athletes.
Exeter has gained a remarkable reputation for sporting excellence in recent years, given its location and age as a university, going from strength to strength in BUCS and recreational sport. Whether you want to play competitively or just keep fit alongside your studies, sport is a significant part of university life, with much of the student body ‘Bleeding Green’ in one way or another.
For those at the top of their game, the University’s Athletics Union (AU) runs a High Performance Programme (HPP), subsidising facilities and coaching for nine sports, including rugby, hockey and netball. Exeter’s HPP has an outstanding status for encouraging the growth and development of athletes at the highest level, some of whom go on to compete internationally. With state-of-the-art facilities and access to a wide range of support such as psychology, physiotherapy and performance analysis, a small proportion of the sports played at Exeter are subsidised to be able to attend these sessions. Whilst other sports have access to these athlete development services, the cost is significant.
subsidising the cost also helps these nine AU clubs to have greater affluence and pump more money into the club, thus increasing the likeliness of repeating their success
The coaching offered for performance athletes is considered some of the best in the world, with many national and international level staff who can offer specialist feedback for teams and individuals, linking with sport governing bodies. Strength and conditioning sessions are tailored to team needs, during the season and pre-season, up to four times a week, with access to the Athlete Development Centre at the Sports Park helping squad cohesion through group training. Free physiotherapy sessions and reduced cost appointments at the in-house physio are also offered and support for academic flexibility is available, to prevent demanding training programmes from inhibiting an individual’s ability to attend all of their scheduled academic requirements.
For the sports who get their access to HPP subsidised, teams have performed at the highest level, with both the Men’s and Women’s Rugby Clubs being ranked 1st in BUCS standings 2015-2016. Athletes from Lacrosse and Sailing have been part of national teams, competing at the highest level, with the latter winning multiple BUCS medals over the last few years. Having access to high quality coaching, facilities and support networks is essential for competing at a high level. Whether HPP helps student sport stars to get the right rehabilitation after a niggling injury or help through academic deadlines, subsidising the cost also helps these nine AU clubs to have greater affluence and pump more money into the club, thus increasing the likeliness of repeating their success year after year.
However, for the clubs without access to this monetary scholarship, other athletes can be disadvantaged. With fifty sports clubs run by the AU, whilst many do not compete at an elite level, I believe funding should be distributed more on an athlete-by-athlete basis. Rather than selecting sports to be given this funding, more competitive students, who otherwise may not have a sports scholarship, should be able to access these discounts, particularly in more obscure sports with a lower profile.
There is no doubt that the HPP facilities funded by the university play a part in the success of sport at Exeter in the last five years with clubs having access to them benefiting from the expert knowledge and training they offer. However, it would be nice to see a different way of allocating the funding to make the access to professional-level facilities open to more and more people.