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Letter to UEG about Sport Suspension

Published on 9th October 2020 at 17:23.

Regarding the letter sent out in relation to all Sports activities, this is the response we have given in return.

"Dear UEG members,

We are writing to you to express our disappointment with the handling of the decision to suspend all sports at Sussex, taken yesterday morning. 

As we’re sure you are aware, the Students’ Union manages all sports teams on campus, and we work closely and maintain good contact with team committees. We carefully managed teams’ training in the context of Covid-19. We were the first point of contact should a team discover that a student attending one of their trials has fallen ill, and worked with the University to develop risk assessments, which we then managed with sports teams to ensure compliance with (and, crucially, understanding of) the rules. 

Therefore, it was extremely frustrating to have not been consulted or even warned about the decision taken by UEG to cancel sport. We have the best understanding of the measures sports teams at Sussex have taken to ensure their trainings are Covid-secure and adhere to both government and national governing body guidelines, as we have been closely overseeing them. Yet we were only informed by Sussex Sport of this decision shortly before comms to students were due to go out. This is unacceptable. We are not just the organisation that manages the teams affected but we are also the elected representatives of these students. We have discussed our desire to work with UEG to ensure that the student voice is heard numerous times and believed this to be reciprocated. Officers should have been consulted about this.

From the limited information that has been shared with us, we understand that this decision was largely taken as a result of a student that tested positive for Covid-19 who has been linked to men’s rugby trials, though there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Covid was transmitted to anyone during this trial, or that trials at Sussex have generally caused infection spread. We have not seen or had any information showing that teams or individuals within teams acted irresponsibly and/or ignored government advice while training. From our own discussions with the team, it would seem that those involved followed the correct procedures, and that transmission actually occurred in social and residential settings.Therefore, it appears as though there is a greater need to be open about the spread of Covid-19 in residences, which has impacted on students getting involved in sport, rather than the other way around.

No matter the situation with men’s rugby, the decision to suspend all sports is rather confusing, as suggested by the exasperated students that have been in touch with us. The suggestion that sports will be able to continue after more health and safety training has been completed by committees, and each team nominates a ‘Covid-19 officer’ demonstrates the lack of discussion with the Students’ Union and Sports teams themselves. At the Students’ Union, we have spent considerable time working with teams to ensure that their risk assessments are compliant with the most up-to-date government guidance, and information provided by the National Governing Bodies for their relevant sport. We have also made sure to check in and confirm that these risk assessments are being followed. Teams wouldn’t have been able to operate if they hadn’t had risk assessments reviewed and approved by our Activities team. Moreover, these risk assessments were produced with advice from the University’s Health & Safety team and Sussex Sport. Therefore, it is particularly confusing to understand what further training is required that would result in any changes to how teams currently operate. Further to this, the member of the committee that produces their risk assessment is already the de facto Covid-19 officer for that team. This has been in place all term. 

We do not disagree that it’s important to offer training to student committees aiding them to safely conduct their sport and, as such, are now in contact with H&S and Sussex Sport about reviewing the processes in place. However, there has been no identification of gaps in our current risk assessments, or problems with how sports currently operate, in which case we don’t understand why training can’t be rolled out whilst allowing sport to continue in teams without infections.

Sport is absolutely fundamental to the student experience for many of our students and we are extremely proud of how teams have conducted themselves these past weeks - despite the difficulties presented to them. Team committees have been working hard to ensure the safety of their members and have been a perfect example of keeping to the values outlined in your community pledge. Cancelling all sports at this time will only work to take away one of the few safe, in-person activities that students have had access to. Team sport is often crucial for many students' well-being, as we’re sure you know. We have included some testimonials from students for you to read, and we hope that these encourage you to broaden this conversation to include students and their representatives in your decision-making. It is our wish that you reconsider your decision to suspend all sports at this time.

As a club, we have been taking every precaution set out by the RFU and SU. We’ve had no Covid-19 cases so far. We’ve been sanitising our kit and balls every fifteen minutes as well as players. Before each person enters, they are required to fill out a symptom checker too. We would happily let someone watch from a distance to show the measures we’ve put in place. - Lucy Creamer, President of Women’s Rugby

We have been on the receiving end of ever changing rules from both The Government and NGBs, going from being allowed 30 people, to then only 6 to back up to 30 again. Rather than being able to have a structure we've had to chop and change plans and procedures in order to stay within guidelines. As of yet we are yet to introduce any new students to basketball as a result of this. We have been strictly enforcing social distancing when not playing,  as well as implementing rules such as no shouting and no high fiving. We were conducting temperature checks, regular hand sanitisation, and regular cleaning of equipment. We have also introduced no-contact track and trace as well as a self-assessed Covid screening form to fill in prior to training. Committees of all sports have been working tirelessly in order to keep our players and coaches safe, so we hope that this decision will be reversed. It’s clear that sport at Sussex is being conducted safely and we want to make sure that this continues. - Lee Dove, President of Men’s Basketball

As a competitive and social society with approximately 80 members we have always striven to give our members the best experience, community and opportunity we can. Extensive work has been undertaken by the committee working closely with the Student’s Union in order to implement measures to keep our members safe. Strict sanitising before, during and after session for players and equipment, a no contact track and trace register, pre-designed drills to distance players and individual equipment allocation to minimise any possibility of transmission to name a few measures put in place. We hope the new announcement will be reversed so we can continue to look after our players and community in person and play the sport we all love. - James Davis, President of Sussex Cricket

As a development and non-BUCs club Darts has been hit hard by the circumstances we all find ourselves in. In order to become a Covid-secure club adhering to social distancing we have had to change our venue in Brighton. Despite that, we have finally managed to secure a new venue which has a dividing wall between two boards allowing for two groups of 6 without having to compromise social distancing. The announcement today has meant that our club is, frankly, close to ceasing to exist given that we haven't been able to host any events this year as non-buccs clubs aren't included in the rule of six training exemption. As a club we of course understand that things can't be completely normal this year but if this decision cannot be reversed then the University of Sussex Darts Club might find it impossible to continue to operate as will so many development clubs at our university. - George McMenemy, President of UoS Darts Society

Women’s football have been doing all they can to ensure safety at all trials and training sessions. We use the government guidelines including track and trace at every session. We have also completed risk assessments that have been approved by the SU. To have this news without any warning has been very disappointing given the hard work we have put into the club so far this year. - Melis Trimmer, President of Women’s Football

Yours Sincerely,

USSU Executive Team."