The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a major blow to sports life on campus, with level-five restrictions having ceased matches and training sessions for all sport clubs, including the five clubs who had previously been granted exemptions under level-three restrictions. Whilst this means that now, all sports clubs around Trinity are facing serious off-field challenges, for many of Trinity’s smaller sports clubs severe limitations on what they can do still exist under level-three restrictions.
The repercussions of such challenges are significant, and may well roll-over beyond this current academic year.
The level-three restrictions had already fundamentally inhibited affairs at these clubs, with freshers’ fair being a symbol of issues to come. The fair itself is pivotal for clubs in terms of attracting membership, which in turn provides an essential source of funding – without which many of these clubs would cease to operate. Though an online fair is better than nothing, it was not as seamless a transition as many club captains would have both hoped for and needed.
“I was hoping we would get more sign-ups”, says Dublin University Boxing Club (DUBC) co-captain Liana Paraschaki. “At the same time, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic before the fair. I understand that people may not be as eager to sign up for things, especially since they don’t know if they’ll even get a chance to try them out.”
For Dublin University Trampoline Club (DUTC) captain Caitríona Quinn, the lack of sign-ups could be blamed on the intensity of an online freshers’ fair: “If it was me in first year doing it all on zoom, I’d be terrified having to go into a breakout room with one or sometimes three seniors there. But I guess it’s what had to be done to make the best of a bad situation.”
I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic before the fair. I understand that people may not be as eager to sign up for things, especially since they don’t know if they’ll even get a chance to try them out
In the case of Trinity Netball, club captain Katie Young remarks how the current situation only made the difficult task of attracting freshers to an already relatively unknown sport an even harder sell: “In netball it’s already harder to attract numbers as it’s a massively British Sport, like most of our team is Northern [Irish], so most people here at Trinity wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to play before.”
The situation was especially bleak for the Dublin University Ultimate Frisbee Club (DUUFC) who saw a massive drop in memberships this year: “We’d usually get around 100 sign ups, this year we’ve only managed 40”, says men’s captain Matthew Runswick.
“In the worst case scenario we won’t have a women’s team next year, and that would be a huge disappointment as the club has always been a top contender in both the mixed and women’s divisions”, Runswick fears.
Not all clubs were hit as hard though, for some the fair even surpassed expectations: “It wasn’t too much of a drop off from normal numbers”, says sailing captain Caolinn O’Regan.
“I’d say we lost maybe 20 per cent of our usual numbers. The advantage of [the freshers’ fair] being online and events being cancelled is that the freshers are able to show interest but don’t have to actually commit at this stage, in what is ultimately quite a committed sport”, notes club secretary Hannah Collins.
In the worst case scenario we won’t have a women’s team next year, and that would be a huge disappointment as the club has always been a top contender in both the mixed and women’s divisions
“I think we’re certainly getting fewer new members than usual from the fair, but I think every club is probably feeling the same way”, echoes Dublin University Karate Club (DUKC) captain Nick Carswell.
While it is certain that the need to hold an online freshers’ fair contributed to the drop in sign-ups, what is also true is that the restrictions have severely limited what sports clubs can offer at present. For many clubs, even under level-three restrictions, as was the situation during freshers week, there was little that could be organised by way of physical activities.
Boxing is one of those sports which, as Paraschaki admits, the pandemic does not make easy to return to: “There’s not much to be done to be honest with you, we are a contact sport so returning to training is quite a difficult process”.
Indoor clubs such as DUTC have also been hit hard by restrictions. For Quinn, there’s not much hope for the club’s chances of getting back to training any time soon – even under level three, they won’t have access to the third floor of the Sports Centre where their trampolines are.
“Training outside isn’t an option either”, Quinn adds, noting the impracticality of bringing their trampolines down from the third floor of the Sports Centre. “It looks like training will be a long-term problem for us.”
Similar challenges apply for Trinity Netball – as Young explains: “Because we play and train on courts indoors normally, and because it’s not a very popular sport here in Ireland there are very few courts outside either, so we can’t train at all in level three.”
If it was me in first year doing it all on zoom, I’d be terrified having to go into a breakout room with one or sometimes three seniors there. But I guess it’s what had to be done to make the best of a bad situation
Looking ahead, it’s hard to imagine a return to normality for sports clubs in the near future as restrictions seem likely to stay in place post-lockdown. As Carswell anticipates: “I can see a lot of the protocols put in place remaining for a long time, with good reason, and frankly I think the best we can hope for as a club is the resumption of 15-person indoor training.”
What’s more, however, is the uncertainty surrounding the restrictions, making it near impossible to plan for future events. As O’Regan puts it, after emphasising the frustration around planning for any sort of future sailing event these days: “It’s proving to be a bit of a rollercoaster with the levels.”
With new memberships down across the board for sports clubs, funding is another pressing challenge facing them is one which causes headaches even in the best of times.
With the uncertainty surrounding Dublin University Central Athletics Club (DUCAC)’s financial position at the moment, as well as the fact that Bank of Ireland pulled out of their sponsorship with Trinity Sport last June, serious concerns linger around how well sports clubs will be assisted to make up for lossed membership revenue.
I can see a lot of the protocols put in place remaining for a long time, with good reason, and frankly I think the best we can hope for as a club is the resumption of 15-person indoor training
More information will be forthcoming after DUCAC’s AGM tonight, but at this present moment there is plenty of worry among clubs with regard to their purses.
For the Trinity Netball Club, Young explains that: “A lot of our income comes from the freshers’ fair and membership fees, so having quite a quiet fair has affected our funding quite significantly actually. It’s our biggest source of income I would say.”
“On top of that, even if the league does go ahead, we’ll have to find funding for matches in Galway, which involves paying coaches fees and referees, so it’s going to be a challenge this year”, Young continues. “We’ll try to have a fundraising event in January or February, but it’s difficult to predict what the situation will be then.”
DUUFC are another group who are struggling at the moment: “Our membership fee is already one of the lowest [€3] so we haven’t really been able to drop fees like some other, better funded clubs have, especially because membership is our main source of income”, says women’s captain Caitlin Ní Shuilleabhain.
Though a few other clubs are somewhat less concerned, with Carswell pointing out that for DUKC: “Obviously raising funds will be an issue but we will probably also have less expenses at the end of the year, considering we will be travelling less for tournaments for example.”
A lot of our income comes from the freshers’ fair and membership fees, so having quite a quiet fair has affected our funding quite significantly actually. It’s our biggest source of income I would say
For DUSC, funding is not so much an issue at present, though Collins assures: “When it becomes one, we’ll start to worry about it.”
“We’d usually have social events and pub quizzes which would normally help with the funding, but to be honest they were more about bonding than raising money – and they were all in person, which isn’t great right now obviously”, adds Collins.
Runswick of DUUFC echoes Collins in lamenting the loss of social events given how essential they are for club bonding and raising funds: “We were going to have a ball last year too to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the club being at Trinity, which would’ve helped with the funding but we obviously had to postpone that. I’m not sure it’ll now happen this year either.”
Ní Shúilleabháin adds to this, saying: “Normally we’d have a games night, something in the Pav, a Mario Kart night, which is all great fun for everyone involved at the club, and really helps with bonding. This year though it will be pretty difficult to maintain all of that.”
These are challenging times for all sports clubs around Trinity which, during pre-pandemic days, have been an invaluable part of the College experience for thousands of students. The present moment is being written off thanks to forces beyond the control of Trinity Sport and DUCAC. Club can only hope that they will be able to pick up right from where they left off once the country has opened up again.