Life in Lockdown: "Roses are white, even the virtual ones"


Nouse talks to York Sport Union President, Maddi Cannell, about Virtual Roses 2020

Article Image

Image by Luke Snell and Lancaster SU (Edited by Malu Aversa and Jonathan Wellington)

By Jonathan Wellington

'Life in Lockdown' is an interview series focusing on people, organisations or student societies who are adapting to isolation in interesting and innovative ways. If you’d like to talk about your experiences in lockdown or share how your student group has adjusted during the pandemic, email; we’d love to hear from you.

This weekend sees York and Lancaster turn onto an unprecedented page in the Roses history book as Covid-19 and the resultant social distancing rules pushes Europe’s largest Varsity event online. Nouse therefore spoke to York Sport Union President, Maddi Cannell, ahead of what is set to be an eventful weekend of virtual sport and a welcome distraction to get students back in touch with life at York.

It has been slightly unclear about what a ‘Virtual Roses’ might include, but the Sport President told us that there will be over 40 challenges and events going on over the course of the  weekend, “ranging from keepy uppys with a shuttlecock in place of badminton, a swimming relay challenge with UYSWC teams being as creative as possible, and stuff that will be open for everyone to enter too.” Despite its virtual location, this year’s Roses might prove to be more accessible than ever with Maddi explaining that “lots of clubs have been set challenges, which you can see the details of on the Virtual Roses Facebook page, but if you aren’t a member of a sports club or society there are plenty of challenges that anyone can enter too. Take a look at the event descriptions and keep eyes out for the timetable which will all be coming out today in a special Sabbs in Short.”

An example of the sort of challenge anyone can get involved in is “the Great British Bake Off challenge with people entering Roses themed bakes.” As it is impossible to replicate the sporting events that Roses is usually synonymous with, “we’re just trying to be as creative as we can with what people are enjoying at home, and what people can realistically do.”

In terms of what we can actually sit and stream from home Maddi tells us that “technology allowing, there will be five events that will be live streamed” adding that she’s particularly excited “because a lot of the events that are being live streamed aren’t the traditional sporting events so it will be nice to see them get a little bit of attention this year as the platform moves online.” A favourite is however potentially given away when Maddi highlights her excitement for the Darts, “which will happen similarly to how it usually would. It will be weird and it'll be different but hopefully really good too”.

When asked what the strangest challenge is likely to be Maddi admits that the “swimming relay one is weird to be honest and we’re really looking forward to seeing what they come up with. We’ve also got one of those Rube Goldberg challenges which we will hopefully get some amazing responses for.”

In light of all this being run from Maddi’s own living room, we asked how she was finding it being a sabb working from home: “I’m not going to lie it is really weird. There’s a lot of meetings where you’re beamed in with seven or eight different people and it’s quite funny seeing all the University staff still in their suits and things and I’m just in a pair of trackies. But it is good fun and I do still feel like I’ve been quite productive because I’m lucky to have the project to work on.”

Many will be wondering why and how the idea for a virtual tournament came about, and Maddi describes how Roses’ positioning later in the academic calendar than other varsity tournaments has offered the benefit of “seeing what other groups had put together in a much smaller space of time”. This led to a call between the two student unions where Lancaster and York came together and said “why don’t we try and make the biggest one? Let’s try and make this massive.”

“We’ve got 32 clubs and societies involved from York which is absolutely fantastic and there’s been even more clubs involved on the fundraising side of things. After that meeting we’ve been talking almost every other day, setting ourselves targets, getting in contact with clubs, chatting to loads of presidents and captains about getting them involved, what they can do and charity things. Currently we’re finalising scoring and how that’s going to work for each one, and liaising with clubs about logistics.”

Another big question many will have is whether this virtual Roses will count in the official tournament history. This was met with a definitive “no”. Maddi did joke however, “I would argue, and I’m sure Lancaster would contest this, that because the trophy is staying with us, it should go down as a York win” before admitting that she thinks “that would go down like a bag of sick at Lancaster”.

The event’s unofficial status brings with it a different aim “to get as many people involved as possible. We’ve got lots of clubs from both Lancaster and York that don’t usually get to compete, maybe because the other institution doesn’t have an equivalent club or they don’t meet the eligibility requirements to compete in the usual Roses.”

Importantly, Maddi stressed that “just because it doesn’t officially count, I do not want to be embarrassed by losing. I’m absolutely not losing this. We need bragging rights for next year. Roses are white, even the virtual ones.” A winner’s mentality.

Conversation then turned to the future of Roses, and in particular the location of Roses 2021, currently scheduled to be held here in York. Maddi starts by acknowledging that this has been a big talking point online before admitting that “we actually haven’t talked about it yet. We did discuss discussing it, but we both agreed we would rather focus on this [Virtual Roses 2020] for now to get it to be as good as it can, and then revisit that discussion about next year when we know more about the situation. There’s a long time between now and next year's event so we don’t really know what situation the country will be in then, let alone universities.”

An important element of next year's Roses is therefore the potential of alumni events to give graduating students one last experience. In relation to people returning to spectate Maddi said “100% we would always encourage alumni to come and watch, at the very least, because it’s great to have support home or away and it’s a very fun weekend to come and watch your teammates from previous years.” In terms of whether recently graduated students might be able to compete, Maddi told us: “I think in terms of actually getting events to happen it’s a very difficult question because timetabling takes so long and is so jam packed anyway, so it’s whether we look at doing an alternative event that's linked to Roses for alumni to come back and compete and whether there’s demand for that. I think it’s a question that will definitely be raised when we have conversations about next year's Roses, so watch this space.”

A key element of this year’s virtual Roses is of course fundraising. We asked how this will run, to which Maddi responded “it's clearly running differently to usual this year, as usually we’d have a focus on one or two charities for the whole Sport Union but obviously Covid-19 is a massive challenge for a lot of charities and I’m very aware that lots of clubs have specific charities they support throughout the year. A lot of events usually go on in the summer term which they might not be able to hold as normal now. So we decided we would open it up so clubs could run fundraisers for their own chosen charities. The ones we’ve picked as a Sort Union are Age UK and Cancer Research UK because of the severe financial implications that Covid-19 has put on them. Other charities that are already up with linked fundraisers include NHS Charities together, a chance to shine and we’re still seeing new fundraisers being added to that hub site on just giving all the time.” Maddi is optimistic and hopeful about how much Roses can raise telling us “we’re on £690 already which I’m really pleased with especially considering it’s not the weekend yet where we’ll hopefully see the bulk of donations as that’s when the activities are actually happening.”

You can support Maddi, who will be doing the three peak challenge on her staircase, and all the other challenges taking place through the Roses Facebook page which can be found here. Keep eyes on our social media feeds for coverage of the virtual Roses tournament.