The OUAFC (Oxford University Association Football Club) women’s team now hold the same Blues specifications as the men’s team, after the Oxford Blues Committee passed the motion by 36 votes to 4.

A merger with the men’s team also means that the 2020-21 season will be the first in which the OUAFC budget will be split 50:50 between the men’s and women’s teams. However, there is still marked uncertainty about the form that practices will take in Michaelmas term.

OUAFC President, Erin Robinson, told The Oxford Blue about how she first became aware of the difference in the awarding of Blues between men’s and women’s football: “It was the first time I started a Varsity game (2019) when I realised. Cambridge, unfortunately, claimed a double light blue victory that year. Following the match, it was explained to me that (despite losing like us) the men walked away with a Full Blue, while the women’s team were only awarded a Half Blue.”

Robinson described what steps she took to change how Blues were awarded to the women’s team: “After being elected as President of OUWAFC, the following Michaelmas I submitted a motion to the Oxford Blues Committee for a change in criteria to address this discrepancy. With some help from the wonderful Abby D’Cruz (who had successfully fought for equal blues status for women’s rugby earlier in the year), I prepared a 2-page proposal document and then delivered a speech to representatives of all the Full Blues sports at the termly Blues Committee meeting.”

The awarding of equal Blues specifications came as welcome news to the women’s team: “I can clearly remember the night when we got the email to say the vote had passed”, Robinson told The Blue. “We were all in Magdalen bar after a league match away against Cambridge, which we had just won 4-2. It really was a double victory for Oxford football that day.”  

Not only will the new Blues specifications have significant effects for the club, but OUAFC Women’s Vice President Alessandra David also talked to The Blue about how the merger will positively affect the teams going forward. Under the merger, a new committee will be formed with Robinson as President, as well as having one treasurer and secretary to act for the entire club.

David states: “The new committee will be critical in steering this merger into what we are confident will be a more equal and united club. We are confident this new executive committee reflects the equality that we believe is not only needed by the University, but in women’s football more generally.”

Just a year after England’s success in the 2019 Women’s World Cup last year, the English Women’s Super League was ended prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic, despite the restart to the Premier League. Earlier this year, the United States Women’s National Team’s claims of unequal pay were dismissed by the US Soccer Federation, signalling a significant blow to women’s football around the world.

David discussed how the team is affected by wider issues in the world of women’s football: “There is definitely still a lot of work to be done in the professional women’s league, most importantly in attaining recognition that men’s and women’s sports deserve equality. However, I really do believe that this progress is achieved, not by re-working the policies in place at the professional level, but at the grassroot, club and university football levels.”

OUAFC is one of many university sports teams whose practices and matches have been greatly affected by the pandemic. Speaking to The Blue, Women’s Blues captain Alice Nichols reflected on the cancellation of the annual Varsity match against Cambridge, supposed to have taken place in March: “It was obviously a massive blow to the team as our whole season had been building up to that final match and it was many players’ last (or only) opportunity to be awarded with a Blue. On top of that, our football tour to Madrid was cancelled the following week so we missed out on what could’ve been an incredible trip and goodbye to this year’s departing players.”

However, Nichols talked about how the club adapted to the university’s virtual Trinity term: “We have managed to keep up the team’s spirit with various online activities, including competing in the ‘toilet roll challenge’, virtual pub quizzes, and our first ever remote hustings to select the committee for the following year.”

Nichols also told The Blue how the club also took the opportunity to embark on a collective fundraising project: “OUAFC as a club decided to collectively run 1,507 km (the equivalent distance from Iffley Road Stadium to the Bernabeu in Madrid- the original destination for our cancelled tour). This was to raise money for KEEN Oxford, a charity which provides one-to-one sports sessions for children and young adults with special needs, financed entirely by donations. We managed to raise close to £1,000 to ensure KEEN could continue to provide much needed support to families online throughout lockdown.”

Going forward, OUAFC hope to continue developing the club’s successes in various ways. The first student Outreach and Development Officer has recently been appointed and there are hopes to eventually form a women’s 3rd team.

Much is still unknown regarding practices and matches for all university sport teams and clubs, Nichols believes: “Government advice regarding the phased return to outdoor sport is promising; we expect to be able to resume contact training as usual in October and throughout Michaelmas Term, obviously in keeping with up-to-date guidelines from the FA. Trials will also take place as usual in Fresher’s week, although potentially staggered and in smaller groups, depending on numbers of trialists. Unfortunately the start of our BUCS season has been pushed back until January, but we are extremely excited to be able to get back to playing football, and win back our title in next year’s Varsity as well.”

Uma Gurav

Uma is a columnist for The Oxford Blue. She is in her second year studying History and English at Wadham College. Her column "Your 'How-to' guide to Hilary Term" was inspired by the film 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days'.