Photo: Marta Kierkus
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The problem facing varsity sports at the fringe

Varsity sports are a cherished part of the University of Ottawa’s culture, and rightfully so. The athletes who represent the U of O deserve our support when they compete at the highest level.

The problem however is that not all athletes get our glowing support in their endeavours. Football and basketball are by far the most attended student sports—the athletes are often heralded as near-royalty on campus. But for other varsity sports like swimming, rugby, track, and others, the stands are a lot less full.

I recently spent time covering the women’s rugby team’s playoff run and the unbeaten Gee-Gees’ most pivotal games were met with decent crowds—but paled in comparison to the turnout for the Panda Game or Capital Hoops. So why is it that some sports get more spotlight on campus than others?

It certainly isn’t a result of some sports being more ‘athletic’ or ‘harder’ than others. Try telling any student athlete that they didn’t have to dedicate an enormous amount of energy, time and resources to get to whatever level of skill they’ve achieved.

The average person, or even athlete, wouldn’t likely stand a chance competing against a university-level athlete at their given sport. Sports are important tools for personal growth, teaching essential life skills such as time-management, discipline, prevailing in the facing adversity, and celebrating success. As such, all sports deserve respect and so should all participants in it.

The issue is perhaps one rooted in social trends, if we simply look at attendance figures for different sports around the world.

The top-viewed athletic leagues in the world are the NFL, the various European soccer leagues, Indian Cricket, and the NBA.

It’s clear that not all sports are treated equally. People often muse how the only time they pay attention to certain sports is when the Olympics comes by every four years.

Think about this, do you personally watch the 100m sprint at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) world championship events? Okay, how about just the national level? As we go down athletic levels into the amateur and collegiate levels, it becomes clear that public interest in tuning in dissipates until it’s often just an audience of coaches, bench players, relatives, and nearby onlookers.

All sports deserve our respect and attention—not a half-interested gaze while we idly walk home.

The achievements that our athletes from sports like swimming and track and cross country have accomplished are nothing to sneeze at.

The male and female swim team managed to secure three bronze, two silver, and two gold medals at this weekend’s Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Fairweather Divisional Championships hosted in Toronto.

Audrey Prayal-Brown set the CIS record for the 50 meter breaststroke with a time of 32.77 seconds. Yet her amazing achievement will not be discussed in the same breath as how the Gees folded in this year’s Panda Game, or how good the men’s and women’s basketball teams are looking this season.

It’s a shame that she and her fellow Gee-Gees’ achievements are just as impressive as any other this season, but they get much less shine.

Hopefully society will one day start paying more attention to achievements like Prayal-Brown’s, and start tempering our over-infatuation with only a few overhyped sports.