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The Importance of Sport at University

Greg Devine


Team rowing is a popular sport at universities.

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The end of the second semester at university means one thing for most institutions up and down the country: varsity. For those who don’t know, varsity is usually when two universities from the same city go up against each other in a variety of sports to become an overall winner—a bit like a local football derby.

Generally, if there’s a sport that both universities offer, they’ll compete against each other in it, often with more than one team, which can draw surprisingly big crowds. It’s also a chance for students to break away from studies to achieve glory and bragging rights over the other institution. For me personally, at Newcastle University, this meant going up against our great rivals: Northumbria. Whilst most of the spectators watched the more traditional sports, like rugby and football, American football is what my friends play, so that’s what I chose to watch.

American Football played at uk university

Being surrounded by fellow students with a pint in your hand is always fun, but it’s even more so when a rival university is also there, shooting some friendly banter—this centred on Northumbria being a former polytechnic and Newcastle traditionally being full of posh students who couldn’t get in at Durham Uni. It was a great way to end the social element of my first year at university before it starts to get serious with final exam season. For some students, it could have been their last ever game for their team. What a way to finish—winning against your local rivals!

It's so important to have this at university. It serves as a reminder of what university is all about…studying, yes, but also enjoying experiences that not everybody is blessed to have. When exam season does come round, I’m sure all students will start to feel an element of stress, so holding varsity beforehand gives an excuse for one last party before the tough work begins.

Ice Hockey

In some cities, varsity is huge. Sheffield’s main varsity attraction may surprise you: Ice Hockey. It’s even played at Sheffield Arena, which, when configured for ice hockey, holds over nine thousand spectators. The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University battle it out to crown the winner, and there’s plenty of bragging from the victorious team on the night out that follows. I was out in Sheffield the night of varsity and, whilst I’m not sure who won, it was clear that both universities took it very seriously, based on the conversations I heard that night.

Perhaps the biggest varsity game is one everybody in the country will be familiar with: the Oxford and Cambridge rowing race. Although not referred to as varsity, it essentially is. It’s two universities battling it out just the same, although those two particular institutions are far too old and set in their ways to ever take on an American tradition.

Sport at university allows students to take a break from their studies and stay fit and active, but it’s also a great way to make friends, especially as a fresher. Whilst I personally don’t play a sport, I am involved with American Football at Newcastle Uni. It’s through this that I met my housemates for next year. It gave me the confidence to talk to new people and make friends. I now have a group of people I know I can always have a laugh with if I need an escape from my studies. I think, without it, many students would struggle more than they already do. Everybody is aware of the typically poor mental health of university students; sport gives them that essential break and helps them keep it together.


Sadly, not all sports at university are well funded. Rugby and football will always be, thanks to their popularity and pathways into professional teams. Other sports, like American Football, don’t receive the same financial backing. With funding, who knows what the limit for university sport could be? There are already nationwide leagues set up for countless sports, but with a little extra funding for things, like referees and equipment, they could be even better.

Having almost completed my first year at Newcastle Uni, I can now say that getting into a sport or society would be my number one tip. Sometimes, you can feel quite lonely at university, but if you’re involved with a team, you’ll always have some friends that you see regularly. That, to me, is so important.

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