In what way does the Durham sporting experience differ to that offered at Warwick? Photo: Luke Brown

Interviewing Durham University’s student paper, Palatinate

In the first week of the Boar’s ‘A Universal University Sporting Experience?’ feature, we interview Nick Friend, Sports Editor of the Palatinate, which is the student newspaper of Durham University.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Warwick was grandly declared the ‘University of the Year’ by The Times and The Sunday Times recently. Unsurprisingly this is a pretty big deal, with Warwick now thrust into the spotlight, eager to impress prospective students and investors on the eve of the institution’s 50th anniversary. Praise was heaped on a wide variety of departments, whilst Warwick’s academic consistency was also lauded; Warwick has now been a mainstay in the top 10 university chart for the last 20 years.

So let’s all pat ourselves on the back and allow ourselves to feel slightly smug before we’re all unemployed and Warwick Uni is but a fond, distant memory. But, wait a moment. Before you go blanketing prospective employers with your newly updated C.V., or changing your Warwick email address to include a ‘University of the Year’ signature (please, don’t be that guy), it’s worth bearing in mind that our uni didn’t succeed in every category. No, Warwick’s sportsmen and women in particular will be casting envious eyes at Durham University, which was voted ‘Sports University of the Year’ by the same two publications.

What’s the secret to Durham’s sporting success, then? Do they circle three times a week? Does every lecture begin with a quick five minute cardio workout? Or do they only accept students whose UCAS is stuffed full with sporting achievements? In an attempt to find out, I spoke to a Durham student called Nick Friend, who is a Sports Editor at their fantastic student newspaper, the Palatinate. Nick spoke to me as part of the Boar’s new ‘A Universal University Sporting Experience?’ feature, which will see the section speaking to a Sports Editor at a fellow student publication on a weekly basis, to find out about sport at their institution, in an attempt to comparatively assess and judge the Warwick sporting experience.

The Team Durham website proudly states that there is a college sport rate of 90%, which is an astoundingly high figure.

One of the main reasons for Durham’s success in particular would appear to be their enviously high participation rates. The Team Durham website proudly states that there is a college sport rate of 90%, which is an astoundingly high figure. Nick seemed to believe this was indeed a key component in the Durham sporting success story, and he identified the University’s collegiate system as a possible reason for this.

“For me college sport is huge: the standard is exceptionally high and people are proud to play for their college”, he told me. “All games are played on University team pitches, with qualified and impartial referees and umpires. Even the University’s best sportsmen want to play for their college, and semi-pro footballers, for example, treat the competition as seriously as their University competition. It’s great for camaraderie and playing a high level of sport against a decent standard of sportsmen.”

In fact, Nick couldn’t speak highly enough of the collegiate sport system- “College sport is our Everest”, he added- and therefore it is encouraging that Warwick Sport have taken steps to replicate this kind of sporting framework. In recent years, the commendable Warwick Active scheme, organised by Jen Emeny-Green, has launched ‘Hall Sport’, which has enjoyed some success amongst the student population and looks set only to grow in popularity. Events this year kick-off on the 14th October, and participation is free to all Warwick Sport members, and is also available at the very affordable price of £3.50 to non-members.

The cost of sport at Durham was another issue I broached with Nick. Of course, the recent Warwick Sport price increase has led to fears that Warwick students may well be deterred from buying a membership and engaging in sport on campus; were there any similar problems at Durham? It would appear not. “At Durham we’re quite lucky”, Nick began. “Gym membership is well priced, for example, but the majority of students are able to use their college’s gym, which are both more conveniently located and even cheaper. I can’t imagine price would put anybody off of joining Team Durham, after all the facilities at Maiden Castle are state of the art to say the least, and if people really couldn’t afford the price, there are schemes in place that would help them.”

Yeah so they may slightly better at sport, but Durham Cathedral doesn't have much on The Koan, amiright? Photo: Wiki

Yeah so they may slightly better at sport, but Durham Cathedral doesn’t have much on The Koan, amiright? Photo: Wiki

At Durham, students pay a £126 sport levy which lasts for the duration of a three year course, rather than having to pay an annual subscription fee. With an annual gym membership then costing an additional £126 per year, it would appear accessing sport facilities at Durham is indeed cheaper than at Warwick, and one would imagine this is another significant factor in their high participation rates. Nick also explained that Team Durham are engaged in attempting to offer a sports programme for non-sporty students. “In particular we have a Festival of Sport whereby students form their own teams and take part in a day long friendly event”, he said.

This Festival of Sport, hosted after the end of the Durham exam period, seems an excellent idea, and appears especially geared up to appealing to those with only a relatively casual interest in sport. The closest Warwick equivalent would probably be the ‘It’s a Knock Out’ events, held on Tocil Field. Perhaps an extension of this idea, into a full day event featuring other sports and a ‘Hall Sports’ competitive edge would be popular amongst the Warwick student body. Certainly the appetite for something like this would appear to exist, given the unprecedented success of Warwick Active events like the annual Zombie Run, and UV Sport.

Of course, the biggest sporting event on campus is, and will always be, the Varsity series against Coventry. For Durham, last year marked their inaugural Varsity meet with York University: can our own, highly popular series learn anything from this much newer sporting clash? Nick told me that the series was “pretty successful”, but admitted that “it didn’t attract the kind of attention of excitement that an event like the College Floodlit Cup Final would receive”. Unsurprisingly perhaps, for a University so engrossed in both inter-collegiate sport and the BUCS calendar, it appears that Durham have precious little time for a domineering Varsity clash, too.

The necessity of the Warwick Active programme is highlighted when one considers the success of the Durham ‘Festival of Sport’.

On the note of BUCS, my interview with Nick finished with a warning to the Warwick rowers. “I’d suggest looking out for the Durham Boat Club this year. They didn’t have a fantastic year last time around and there’s been a fair bit of controversy surrounding their continued funding. But, given that funding and the facilities, as well as the proximity of both the Wear and Tyne, they should have a very good year”. Let’s hope then, that in between posing for exceptionally glamorous naked photographs (and putting the rest of us completely to shame), our rowers have been practising hard for the forthcoming season.

Speaking to Nick about sport at Durham was a rewarding experience and, undoubtedly, there are lessons that Warwick Sport can learn from the Team Durham success story. The bedrock of Team Durham’s achievements over the past year seems to be because of their fantastically high participation rate and it seems no exaggeration in stating that this seems to be almost exclusively because of their highly competitive and engrossing collegiate sporting system.

As a centralized University, Warwick Sport cannot hope to simply mimic this method of success, but the fact that the Warwick Active programme has launched the ‘Hall Sport’ series is highly promising, and will hopefully rather mimic Durham’s high participation rate. Furthermore, the necessity of the Warwick Active programme is also highlighted when one considers the success of the Durham ‘Festival of Sport’ in further engaging students in sport. More so than their Varsity clash with York, or in matters of pricing or similarly sterling facilities, it would appear that it is in the social structuring of sport at Durham University that there are a few clues in how Warwick Sport can maintain an engrossing and inclusive sporting programme at our own University.

Next Monday, the Boar will be interviewing the Sports editorial team at Redbrick, the student newspaper of the University of Birmingham.


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