Feeling the pressure

 
 

Windsurfing captain Orla Ní Riordáin talks to Kevin Beirne about the funding available to UCD sports clubs

With the building of the new student centre, it would appear that UCD are making some great investments in sport in the university. A new gym, with membership for all students, and an Olympic-sized 50 metre swimming pool are some of the new facilities students can avail of.

The new gym means that the average student is more likely to keep fit and the new pool means sports like swimming, canoeing and water polo have a place to train on campus. However, if we look below the surface, a question arises; does UCD provide enough funding to its sports clubs?

Orla Ní Riordáin, captain of UCD’s windsurfing club, says that the answer is a simple no. In particular, she says, sports that rely heavily on equipment, such as her own, lose out greatly when funding to sports clubs in general is cut.

Ní Riordáin paints a picture of the pressures facing many clubs at the moment; “If we can’t get enough money to fix our trailer, then the boat can’t get down to Seapoint and we can’t run our sessions… It’s not a club then, at that point, because we won’t be able to run windsurfing.”

She goes on to say that “the most we can do is go out on nights out that don’t cost us anything, but that’s not windsurfing.” And while Ní Riordáin sees the benefits of social events for the club, her priorities lie with the windsurfing aspect of the club.

Not only is a lack of funding detrimental to the development of less popular sports such as windsurfing, it is also dangerous in some cases. In the case of windsurfing, a lack of funding means that most of the equipment used is old and, in some cases, rusting.

This may seem like something the club should just “get on with”, but using old equipment increases the chance of breakages, and on the water, this leads to a greater risk of drowning. This contributes to water sports having the slightly higher registration fee of €15, to cover the extra insurance for a “high-risk” sport.

The lack of funding also affects the social side of the club. Many students join sports clubs in the hopes of it providing an active and exciting social life with like-minded people, as well as for the love of the sport it offers.

For some students just starting life in UCD, a sports club can provide them with some much needed grounding and focus during a huge change. “We only do a certain amount of trips a year, because of the cost of it, and we don’t subsidise them at all,” explains Ní Riordáin, “because the club just can’t pay for them at all.”

For a university with such a proud sporting tradition, many people feel let down by the low level of funding available to sports clubs. Despite this disappointment, it is understandable that the college cannot afford to give every club the funding they feel they need, given current financial restraints.

Ní Riordáin laments the recent cuts to her club, saying that “Our trailer weighs loads, so towing that down to Seapoint and back, it’s a €20 round trip from [UCD] to Seapoint for petrol and we also have to tow the boat there and back.

That’s four trips [€80] worth of petrol money every weekend… You have to take a lot of what could be allocated to gear for petrol. We’re going to have 10% less [funding] than last year already, but even last year we were under money pressure… If they could give that 10% extra, that would make a massive difference”

Sports clubs may have to resort to investment from outside of UCD in order to getting the funding they need, but this can only go so far. Most sponsorship comes in the form of a discount for members or in prizes for events, rather than equipment or money.

Ní Riordáin says that the windsurfing club has managed some sponsorship, but that none of it is in monetary form, due to the financial constraints on small businesses in Ireland today. Although they have applied for sponsorship with larger companies, Ní Riordáin does not expect any monetary sponsorship, although equipment remains a possibility.

At the moment, sports clubs are forced to do whatever they can with limited resources. Just like everyone else, the clubs are left to rely on volunteers and makeshift, temporary solutions to problems with equipment.

Ní Riordáin is quick to credit those who have given their time to support the club, in particular her fellow committee members saying “Andy is our gear officer, and without him, we’d be absolutely screwed because he fixes the boat, basically, and the trailer too.”

It remains to be seen if UCD sports clubs can withstand the cuts to their budgets. They will continue to throw together whatever equipment and funding they can. So long as they can find students who are passionate about their sport, they will find a way.

The long term problem lies in UCD’s competitiveness outside with other colleges. Other colleges could soon pass out UCD in terms of reputation for sporting prowess, and this could lead to students deciding to apply elsewhere. If UCD wishes to maintain its spot at the top of Irish college sports, it needs to provide its clubs with enough money to operate.

Let’s just hope that those in charge appreciate the importance of sport as part of the UCD way.

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