And so it begins. As a glorious summer passes, a passage to glory is surmised. Slates are wiped; sights are set. Semesters are planned; seasons are plotted. As the sun sets on summertime, one thing is certain: the Saints Sport warhorse is riding back into town.
A town of auld, grey, cobbled streets, perhaps – but the Saints Sport warhorse does not canter. Saints Sport only knows how to gallop (and as far as pre-season fitness drills are concerned, it knows how to hurdle, too). Simply put, sport in St Andrews is already underway, with all the intensity of a Grand National final furlong. The only difference being that Saints Sport’s final furlong is a whole year’s worth of sporting hijinks into the future.
A year, it must be said, in which the scope for sporting success is more than several furlongs wide. The sheer scale of sport in St Andrews, more than anything, suggests as much. Saints Sport now encompasses almost seventy clubs, most of which participate in BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) leagues against other universities. Through weight of numbers alone, some degree of glory seems almost certain.
But of course, to presume success is to defeat the point of playing sport. If you don’t think it’s possible to lose, why make the effort at all? To play sport is to make the effort. Every pre-season shuttle run is part of the sporting experience, as much as it may hurt at the time. Every sprint, every movement, is undertaken precisely because it is possible to lose. Which is why the bribery and corruption scandal at FIFA this summer was quite so damnable. Setting the popularity of football aside, the FIFA scandal was such big news because it offered an example of hypocrisy so profound as to be laughable.
FIFA’s entire mantra espouses fair play. To cheat, FIFA claim, is to render their entire enterprise futile. Without fair play – that is, without the possibility of defeat – football, and all sport, becomes meaningless. And to actively deal in bribes and fixed payments could hardly be a better example of fair play dispensed with.
That even better example being the eerily coincidental IAAF furore, in which it was alleged by The Sunday Times that thousands of suspicious blood test results went ignored between 2001 and 2012. That the IAAF president, Seb Coe, described these allegations as “a declaration of war” on athletics testifies to the sheer seriousness of the claims. If true, elite level sport’s global reputation would be tarnished almost indelibly.
Even Mo Farah, the henceforth clean-cut icon of the 2012 London Olympics, hasn’t outrun controversy. Last week’s admission to once using a drug, khat, now banned by anti-doping authorities, sits awkwardly alongside the revelation he missed two drug tests in the run up to 2012.
To abstract professional sport from its more unseemly elements, then, seems nigh-on impossible. When a fistful of dollars plus a few dollars more is up for grabs, the bad and the ugly will always stand-off with the good.
Perhaps this, conversely, is what makes student sport so worthwhile. It is often said that the mere presence of so much money in professional sport is corruption enough, bribes and drug allegations aside. Student sport deals in no such fiscal or chemical concerns.
In fact, student sport’s only real chemical concern is where best to have a post-match pint or two; its only fiscal concern their price. Sport at uni is an end-in-itself; serious but essentially self-contained fun. Where sport in general has recently been portrayed as a hotbed of cynicism – ‘cheating’ a mere byword for ‘cunning’ – student sport stands apart.
What really matters, then, is simply playing. The raw experience of student sport is more valuable than any money could possess. Saints Sport in particular is truly special; a set-up virtually unrivalled in the UK in terms of scale and cohesion. So when the weather deteriorates in a few weeks (it will do), just remember to embrace it. Relish every raindrop. Cherish every challenge. Treasure every training. Do all that, and this could just be the year. If you’re going to pick a winner in 2015, pick Saints Sport. After all, it only knows how to gallop.