The University of Oxford has released a statement confirming that plans to repurpose the sports halls at Iffley Road Sports Centre as teaching spaces have been abandoned.
The statement says that the sports halls “are no longer under consideration for potential teaching and academic purposes in Michaelmas term” after the SFEC (Sports Federation Executive Committee) sent a letter backed by over 1,500 signatories opposing the repurposing of the halls.
The SFEC had received news of the university’s ongoing considerations to utilise Iffley Sports Centre as a teaching space on 19 August. Backed by the Oxford SU, the ‘Save Iffley Road’ campaign letter opposing the proposal – signed by 1,506 students, alumni and staff – was sent to Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Louise Richardson, eleven days later. The letter underlined various concerns raised by the prospect of losing the halls as sports spaces.
In the letter, the SFEC highlighted the potentially damaging effects of the loss of the sports halls on students’ mental health and wellbeing, as well as the University of Oxford’s standing in inter-university competitions and leagues.
The University have stated that while the sports halls will not be used as teaching spaces in Michaelmas term, “it was acknowledged and agreed by SU officers that there may be a need to use the sports halls for some examinations in Trinity Term – when sports hall use is reduced”.
Further information will be released as plans for examinations are formulated throughout the academic year.
With Michaelmas term beginning on 11 October, the statement underlines the university’s “well-developed plans for the safe re-opening of the swimming pool and outdoor pitches”, as well as ongoing “detailed planning work on the safe provision of indoor sport when suitable process and safeguards are in place”.
Ben Farmer, Vice President (Charities and Community) of the Oxford SU, released in a statement: “We’re delighted to have helped secure this major win for students which shows the vital importance of sports at all levels at Oxford. The inspiring student campaign from the Oxford University Sports Federation Executive Committee and the large numbers of students who supported this issue has been great to see and we’re pleased the University has recognised this in their decision.”
In reference to university sport in the upcoming term, Farmer also stated: “There are still some uncertainties which remain around the planned opening of the sports centre and other facilities as well as the procedures for both college and University sport. We will continue to work for students in lobbying the collegiate University on these issues.”
Isabel Creed and Christy Sadler, Welfare Officers on the SFEC stated: “We’re really pleased to see that the University has made this decision which shows the importance of sport of Oxford. We’d like to thank all the sports clubs, students and alumni who got involved and share the campaign to help get this win and we look forward to working with the University on the return to sport at Iffley Road and beyond.”
The University of Oxford summarised their commitment to students’ safety and wellbeing, stating that “the health and well-being of our staff, students and local community is our top priority, and we are committed to helping students to get active as much as possible, whilst also ensuring activity is undertaken within Covid-safe arrangements”.