It has been 100 years since the inception of the Dublin University Central Athletics Club (DUCAC). The club operates as a centralised governing body for all of Trinity’s sports club, organising their budgets and providing a platform for each club to voice their concerns and ensure representation at the collegiate level. However, despite being an organisation with the express purpose of protecting students, DUCAC had never had a student Chairperson. That is until now. At the end of September, Jemil Saidi was elected the first ever student Chairperson of DUCAC, sparking a break from tradition for the better. Saidi sat down with Trinity News to talk about his sporting history, his meteoric rise in the world of student politics and his plans for the future of DUCAC.
As a child, Saidi was introduced to a number of games that helped him develop a passion for sports. “My dad used to play soccer every Saturday with a group from the African community and he would bring me along, so I got into sports that way,” recalls Saidi, thinking back to his younger years. “And then, coming from an African country, there had been no such thing as Gaelic football so when I moved here, I started to play Gaelic football and hurling.” Having moved to Ennis in 2005, Saidi admits that he had trouble adjusting to hurling but he definitely found it easier to pick up football which he played for a few years before inevitably going back to soccer. Eventually when the Leaving Cert came around, Saidi found it more difficult to make trainings and matches and looked for a different, less constrained form of exercise that would fit his schedule. “With athletics, you can train as much as you were able to and competitions weren’t going to be until the summer. As a result, I could drop in and out, which really worked for me.”
Saidi enjoyed and excelled at athletics, taking part in many different activities from hurdles to shot putt. “The only events I never tried were javelin, hammer throw and discus,” recalled Saidi. But despite how much he enjoyed athletics, when he came to college, he spent most of first year with DU Trampolining. “There was a real family element to it and I really enjoyed it,” he explained, detailing the all too familiar experience of finding a new hobby in Freshers’ Fair. His love affair with athletics would continue however, and Saidi explains the chance encounter that led him to Dublin University Harriers and Athletic Club (DUHAC). “I went home to Ennis over Easter and there happened to be a training on in my old club, Ennis Track. I had been with the Trampoline club most of the year, so I wasn’t in peak condition and the coach pulled me aside and said ‘Dublin has ruined you, you’ve got to get back into training.’” No further motivation was needed and, once he got back to Dublin, Saidi investigated when and where he could get involved with DUHAC.
DUHAC would end up being more influential than Saidi ever expected as it also became his gateway into student leadership and politics. At the end of first year, his friends and teammates at DUHAC convinced him to run for men’s track captain, a role Saidi never expected to find himself in. “I was approached by some of the committee members at the time who suggested I run for the role,” recalled Saidi, who initially balked at the idea given that he was only in first year. “The prospect of taking on the role of captain, and not something like Ordinary Committee Member (OCM) or Public Relations Officer (PRO) was very daunting to me.” Despite his reservations, Saidi won the election and accepted the role of captain, taking his first steps into the realm of student politics.
“I want students to feel like their input will be heard”
These achievements were stepping stones along the way to his current position as Chairperson of DUCAC but, despite the success he has had since his involvement, it wasn’t always on the cards for Saidi. “Again, I was encouraged by committee members and friends to get involved with DUCAC. At the time, I had no idea what DUCAC was but I took their advice and ran for club rep.” It is likely that Saidi wasn’t alone in not knowing what DUCAC is or how it works, and it’s something that he has tried to focus on since taking charge. He recently held a student forum to encourage debate about DUCAC constitution changes as well as field questions from the student body about how DUCAC can help them.
Now comfortable with his leadership position within the Club, Saidi needed no encouragement when he decided to run for Vice-Chair. “Running for Vice-Chair was more of a personal decision,” he remarked. “I wanted to get more involved in student sport. I’d seen how it had been happening and I believed that there was a better way to do things as students, and that the Executive Board could do better to represent the student voice.” It is clear to see that, for Saidi, it’s important that a body like DUCAC is effective and efficient in helping students on a personal level, as well as facilitating all the administrative demands of clubs. Saidi also explained that he thinks that having a large student presence in organisations like DUCAC helps them achieve those goals. “Students are given the power to actually have an impact, given the ability to make changes. DUCAC is a student representative board and that only works if students are involved.”
Saidi eventually reached the pinnacle of DUCAC this September when he was elected Chairperson, beating the incumbent Donagh McDonagh in a heated election which was eventually decided by a single vote. How did the change in role affect Saidi? “The first few weeks were certainly difficult. There is no handover manual. But I’ve always enjoyed a challenge.” He also explained how he intends to try and evolve DUCAC: “My plan this year is to change student minds around DUCAC. Make sure that DUCAC is more accessible. As well as changing the Constitution, to allow the publishing of the budgets and to change the voting structure. But I don’t want it to be just my opinion, I want students to feel that their input will be heard.” The voting structure he refers to would assign two votes to every sports club in Trinity as opposed to each member of the club getting their own vote. This would allow smaller clubs to increase their chances of having effective representation in DUCAC.
As the Club enters its centenary, it feels like the perfect time for DUCAC to embrace change. The election of a student to the highest office is a huge milestone and a turning point for DUCAC. “For me, being the first student chair is certainly an honour,” agreed Saidi, “but I felt like it meant more to the students, that they had a student as Chair. It is a big win for student representation in college.” Jemil Saidi has great plans for the future of DUCAC and the vision and drive to make them happen. But it is his focus on students and their needs that is most refreshing and, hopefully, it will beget more change across College going forward.