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Water Polo: Best Performing Sport Stripped of its Performance Status?

UPDATE: After The Saint had gone to print, a meeting between Saints Sport and the women's water polo team resulted in their performance status being restored for the next year, with the team working with the AU to set achievable sustainability targets.

At the University of St Andrews, the women’s water polo team has been the most successful team ever — but how do the University show their appreciation? By stripping the team of their performance status. Frustrations in the club are clearland speaking to the team, I can certainly understand why.

Last week, Saints Sport released a statement in which they announced a discontinuation of support for the women’s Water Polo as a Performance Sport, with the Athletics Union demoting it effective immediately for the 2023-2024 season, after stating the club was in a “precarious position”.

The Saints have consistently reached the highest level in the sport, making them the most successful team at the University as well as reigning BUCS national champions.There is no higher level than the heights the team have reached over the last few years.

The women’s team has a cabinet full of trophies, some of which include the BUCS Premier League in 2019 & 2020 and the BUCS National Championship in 2019 & 2022. As the National Championship was not completed in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid, Saints Women have been the reigning BUCS National Champions for the past 4 years. This is an unprecedented achievement.

Last year, the team were faced with a plethora of challenges after both St Leonards Pool in St Andrews and Olympia in Dundee were closed. As a result, the team were left with four weeks of no pool time, and yet were still crowned champions at the end of the season.

Saints Sport indicated that they had sustainability concerns regarding the Water Polo team but failed to reach out to their Head Coach, Ian MacCallum. Ian was not contacted prior to the decision being made and he has had no other option than to resign following the statement from Saint Sport; his position as Head Performance Coach of a non-performance team is untenable.

Besides coaching, Ian was responsible for recruiting players and being the port of call for students who were interested in playing the sport alongside their studies. He was instructed to “cease recruitment”, and has been told to not respond to prospective students enquiries.

Saints Sport have also indicated that they need to “allow for more appropriate use of the limited available resources”, referring to the lack of pool time. The non-existent University facilities should emphasise what an incredibly impressive feat it was for the team to gain such glory. Olympia in Dundee is currently closed as it is undergoing refurbishments, but it is due to reopen in October 2023. When it reopens, the pool will be water polo legal size, providing a potential future home for the sport and also facilitating a growth in membership.

This is what Saints Sport demands, as in their statement they suggested “removing performance demands and requirements provide the best possible opportunity for the club to grow and develop”. The University are insinuating that the status of the Women’s Team’s as a Performance Sport inhibits the club from gaining beginners, all while the team has given the University recognition and awards on the highest stage. There is no evidence the club’s membership numbers would be higher if the Women’s Water Polo Team did not compete as a performance team. The club are arguing that once Olympia reopens, the current burden of limited resources for all aquatic sports would be alleviated.

The university is failing to give the sport the attention it deserves. Recently, multiple postgraduate students from South Africa have been recruited to play in the men’s rugby team. Just this semester, the netball club has gained a very talented player from South Africa on a sports scholarship. These are just two teams which have certainly benefited from students who excel in their respective sports. And yet water polo, the top performing sport, will not even be granted access to the fitness performance suite where strength and conditioning training occurs.

The issue of Performance Sport is certainly one on which Saints Sport provides no clarity. There has been no definition or criteria for what qualifies to be classified as a Performance sport. Saint Sport are very happy to praise the team after BUCS victories, but they are unable to show any consideration or adequate communication in their build up to this decision which has significant implications for those involved. Lack of communication with clubs is not uncommon for the AU or Saints Sports.

The ultimate goal for the club is to work alongside Saints Sport and the AU to actively address concerns for the club’s viability while also continuing to support the Women’s team at the Performance level. They are proposing that the Water Polo Club be given a one-year trial period, in which the Women’s team will maintain Performance Sport status while the Water Polo Club as a whole takes further steps to increase membership and improve accessibility in order to fit what is deemed to be a “sustainable club”. A meeting between all parties will take place on Monday after The Saint has gone to print.

Saints Sport needs to be more transparent, communicate with clubs more effectively to ensure students are not let down by the ‘number one University in the UK’. The one thing that is for sure is that the Women’s Water Polo are number one in the UK.

The club would greatly appreciate any support that you can give them. They are currently appealing the decision which was taken by Saints Sport, and you can keep up to date with the latest updates on the club’s social media accounts.

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