On Wednesday the 21st March one of the biggest events in the university calendar occurred - Varsity (university competition where two localish uni's play each other at different sports).
As a Brunel student this means we play St Mary's University. For the 2nd time in Varsity history Wheelchair Basketball featured - surely an Amazing thing no?
Well there are a number of reasons why for me this wasn't a special occasion, and I think some of them are representative of whats happening nationally in the University sector in relation to disability sport and disability provision.
Last year myself and others fought hard for Wheelchair Basketball to be included in Varsity - (there are no disability sport events and we felt as we had a team that by including Bball we could help get St Mary's involved in this wonderful sport).
Thankfully it was agreed and a group of eager students from St Mary's under the banner of "The No Ordinary Society" came down and we played... It wasn't a super competitive fixture (we had a team and 2 very talented players - shout out Bethany and Alazar) but it wasn't meant to be. It was the first of its kind, an exhibition match, a showcase, an event to show the spender of para-sport. The event was a massive success, Brunel students supported the game and we had a great crowd, most importantly St Mary's left eager to develop wheelchair basketball at their uni. YAY mission accomplished!
Why is it a year later, with a year to develop the sport that this game was still an exhibition match?
Why did Brunel have to transport chairs for St Mary's to play in?
Why did we have to push for this fixture?
I have it on good word that a bid was put in for chairs and St Mary's were supposed to be getting 10 chairs and a trailer to store them in. However... the university declined due to lack of "storage".
As I said I have it on good word, but this might not be the case. Either way I see no reason for the person who told me to lie, and in any case I think "storage" is a BS excuse!
Why am I disappointed?
Well at one point this fixture wasn't even going to go ahead, because there wasn't enough room in the schedule. Sorry folks we don't really care about disability sport, your not that important...
Anyways the fixture did go ahead. It was a thrashing 48-0 to Brunel (we are ranked 2nd in the country) but on reflection do I think this was fair result? NO
Most of their players had never been in a chair before, all of ours have. Who's fault is that? None of the players, their university is solely to blame for this - throughout the year I made various offers to bring chairs to them/ invited them to sessions/ and offered to assist with funding bids. All readily received by the "No Ordinary Society" NOT supported by the university.
More on my grievances with the fixture...
Basketball games are 40 minutes with 4 x 10 minute quarters plus injury time and half time. Our game was only 20 minutes, we were forced to cut it short because of other fixtures before and after our slot (running basketball).
Now I don't know about you guys but this says something to me, and it aint positive.
Our game was non-scoring, meaning it didn't count for points in Varsity and we contributed nothing to the overall score or our universities. I think there are a few problems with this - but the biggest is the fact that disabled students are not afforded the same opportunity to represent their university - I view this as segregation and this is not inclusive!
The other problem is if it doesn't count for points what is the point? (no pun intended)
Another Showcase/ Exhibition match for all of the 10-15 people who stayed in the hall (most for the fixture after us or left over from the fixture before). This brings me onto my next point - the support, last year I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who showed up to support us. This year I was embarrassed by the lack of numbers. (BTW I don't think its because people didn't want to watch its because they didn't know). On the St Mary's board of fixtures there were all the games and different sports with the different timings BAR 1, Wheelchair Basketball - so if it isn't even on the board how are people meant to come and watch? They aren't because this is disability sport and it doesn't matter.
A few other points (P.S. I promise I'm done soon)
- They didn't book us a Referee and the Table Officials were not aware of our fixture...
This is a sport, we are athletes, we want to compete like ANYONE else, we deserve the same treatment!
Special Shout out to Callum of the No Ordinary Society for helping make this happen.
Lets end on a Positive yesterday we introduced someone new to the sport of wheelchair basketball. Daniella in the red chair.
This is what it is all about, creating opportunities.
Hopefully next year will be a scoring fixture, a "real game" and the sport will develop at another university.
P.S. 3 years ago Brunel Wheelchair Basketball finished 14th out of 16. This year we are National Silver Medallists. Once you have a program in place its easy to develop.
N.B. This is my first blog post, I'd really appreciate it if you guys share it, but more importantly leave some feedback on what you thought!