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Roses Unlocked has the potential to boost participation for smaller teams

The tournament's new format can help to attract membership to those sports teams who may have struggled during lockdown

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Image Credit: Luke Snell

This year, York will ‘host’ Roses Unlocked. Although not entirely online like Virtual Roses, this tournament still looks different to the usual competition. But the good news is the changed format of Roses offers an opportunity to level the playing field (pardon the pun!) of university sports.

For popular sports like rugby, netball and football, the cancellation of training and competitive matches due to coronavirus restrictions has of course been deeply frustrating. However, these sports remain immensely popular, being both watched and played by hundreds of students before they even come to university. These clubs always attract a lot of members, and therefore the impact of lockdown should not be too detrimental to them.

In contrast, for those sports that are perhaps ‘lesser-known’, the impact of the pandemic has been much more pronounced. For example, in an average year, York’s Archery Society has over 120 members. So far this year, they have just 23. Unlike football and netball, archery is a sport that a lot of people will not get the chance to try until they come to university. However, due to lockdown restrictions over the past year, many students - first years and older students alike - have not had the same opportunities as a normal cohort to get involved. The lack of membership has the knock on effect of making it difficult to form committees: York’s Archery Society expects to be able to fill just 5 of its usual 11 committee positions.

The danger is that some societies will fail to form committees at all and could end up folding. Losing societies completely would be devastating, not only for those specific sports, but for the university and its students in general. Universities should be committed to diversity and inclusivity, and having a wide range of sports societies for people to participate in is a fundamental part of this.

Fortunately, this is where Roses Unlocked comes in. The new format of the tournament is a brilliant opportunity for sports that are currently considered ‘minority’ sports to gain exposure. While popular contact sports are unable to go ahead, instead replaced by competitive triathlons, sports that can be done in a socially distanced way and over the internet, like archery, are now the big fixtures.

“We are really looking forward to bringing everyone back together. Roses is a fantastic opportunity for our members to let loose a little and really enjoy the day and the sport we love!” - Tara Course, Archery Club President

This year’s Roses is an opportunity to remind the student population of the societies that are on offer and to attract new membership. Supporting York’s teams is also an opportunity to boost the morale of our sports societies after a challenging year, and show them that the student population is behind them. Although we may not be able to cheer them on from the sidelines, we can support York’s teams by streaming Roses from our living rooms, or watching over a pint in The Forest.

Of course, sports teams are not just about being competitive. The President of York’s Archery Society, Tara Course, told Nouse that “the archery team is more than a sport and committee members. It’s a unique little family. We have each other’s backs and even through lockdown have managed to keep in touch. It’s great to be a part of such a lovely group of people”. As well as being good for our health, sport has an important social element. Being part of a team creates a sense of belonging and camaraderie, as well as being an excellent way to make new friends to go to Salvos with when the clubs open!

For those of us who aren’t interested in being part of a sports team, the Roses weekend is still an opportunity to come together and feel part of a community. It has not been as easy over the past academic year because of the lockdown restrictions, but this is the first step on the road back to normal student life. Sport really does have the ability to bring people together, and while Roses Unlocked may not be quite as big as the Olympics or the World Cup, here at Nouse, we truly believe that in the same way those events unite us as a country, Roses can unite us as a university.

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