Oxford University has announced its decision to prohibit travel to and from Oxford for sporting fixtures because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to the announcement, committee members of non-contact outdoor sports clubs this morning sent a letter appealing the ban to the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Louise Richardson.

In their most recent coronavirus update, Oxford University Sport (OUS) announced that until further notice is given, Oxford University sporting teams should neither travel outside of Oxford nor receive an opponent from outside Oxford for any fixtures.

Emails seen by The Oxford Blue sent by the Sports Federation revealed that the University’s Covid-19 Silver Group took the decision that “there can be no competitive or friendly games against other ‘teams’ from outside of Oxford, even within the context of a training session.” OUS have stated: “Matches against teams based within the city are permitted, subject to appropriate risk mitigation measures being taken.”

The letter of appeal, signed by 21 non-contact, outdoor sport committee members from 7 different non-contact, outdoor clubs asks for the travel ban to be reconsidered. Loss of student sporting participation and a decline in Oxford University’s status in the BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) league competitions are cited as potential effects of the travel ban. The letter states: “Not only do you remove a large incentive to participate in competitive sport, and thus risk fewer sign ups to clubs from freshers, but you risk Oxford’s sports teams being dropped from their BUCS leagues as a result.”

With Oxford’s Michaelmas term due to begin on 11 October, the letter describes preparations that committees have been making to facilitate a safe return to sport, stating: “As committees, we have been working hard since March to ensure that our sports can be played in a Covid-19 safe manner. They are all outdoor, non-contact sports but extra measures have, and will, be put in place, such as the disinfecting of equipment and wearing of masks and gloves in cars/coaches”. Previous guidance sent to sports clubs just days earlier on the 10th of September takes no issue with sporting fixtures outside of Oxford. 

Current guidelines allow for training to take place within University teams, a decision which the letter cites as an example of the recognition that “outdoor, non-contact sport can be played safely and competitively”. 

Speaking to The Blue, Laura Bramall, the Captain of Oxford University Equestrian Club (OUEC) and co-signer of the letter of appeal commented: “It’ll be a real shame for our team members to lose out on competitions, especially as in the last two years the club has been the most successful it’s ever been. We’re devastated that we won’t be able t aim for varsity and nationals as we should be doing and that the freshers will miss out on so much”

The letter concludes: “We take great pride in our competitive histories and have very much been looking forward to continuing Oxford’s long tradition of sporting excellence in the safest possible manner. To fall behind other Universities now would be a great loss to us all, and a poor reflection on the University’s commitment to supporting its students’ extra-academic interests and wellbeing.”

The University of Oxford has been contacted for comment.

This article was amended at 17:39 on 30/09/2020 to correct the number of signatories from 11 to 21.

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'.