Students must pay a heavy price for sport

Sport in college can be taxing in many different ways, writes Victoria Mitchell

Students are constantly being pressured to exercise – sport helps one maintain good physical health, while also being quite therapeutic. But with financial, social and academic costs to take into consideration, achieving the one hour of exercise per day that specialists recommend may not be as easy as it first appears.

“For the broke student at Trinity, Domino’s Two for Tuesdays, Aldi wine and the chaplaincy weekly free lunch are all part of the infamous College experience.”

University is an expensive pursuit which leaves many students under financial strain. The combination of tuition, books, accommodation, travel, and food is so debilitating that the majority are forced to make sacrifices. For the broke student at Trinity, Domino’s Two for Tuesdays, Aldi wine and the chaplaincy weekly free lunch are all part of the infamous College experience. Forking out €70 for a pair of football boots or €50 for a hockey stick on the other hand probably won’t make the cut. The cost of many sports simply does not fit the student lifestyle.

First year English student Finn Purdy is concerned about the expense of swimming, saying: “The cost of swimming suits is extortionate especially because the effectiveness of the suit tends to wear off after the third or fourth use.” Arena is the current brand leader for professional swimwear with prices starting from around €200 for racing suits. However, suits such as the Women’s Powerskin Carbon-Ultra which use science technology to further enhance performance, could cost as much as €535. For most students this simply won’t fit the weekly budget. Yet the expense does not stop there, as Finn went on to explain: “Last year I attended the Irish Nationals for five days at the NAC in Dublin which cost me around €1,200 in total for entry fees, food, and hotel accommodation.”

All aspiring athletes will have been uplifted by films like Rocky, which gave power to the underdog, proving that heart and talent can trump facilities and wealth. But that plot line is becoming more and more fictional each day for students. The 2015 Healthy Ireland Survey found that less than half of students, 46%, are considered to be highly active. Costs such as those mentioned by Finn clearly demonstrate that economic barriers continue to disadvantage students from lower income families.

“New research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that in 2016 almost one third of Irish adults did not get enough exercise”

Whilst college may not be a time of luxury and extravagance, one thing that students should not have to compromise is their health. Yet due to financial costs attached to many sports societies, this is a very real prospect. Danielle McKay, a first year BESS student, was shocked when she learned that Trinity College Rugby Club charged a membership fee of €100: “Having played rugby throughout secondary school, I really wanted to keep it up at university. However, I don’t have the money to pay €100. It’s a shame as I was eager to join the club.” The fee is paid by all members at the start of the year and covers insurance, kit, and equipment. Regardless it is a price that many students cannot afford, and may discourage students from joining the club.

Training weekends abroad are another drain upon students’ bank accounts. The universally renowned ski-trip, a classic feature in many American films, is no longer about sporting excellence but is instead seen as a holiday for wealthy students. Is it any wonder when a hefty price tag of €539 is attached, preventing anyone other than financially secure students from attending?

Yet despite the financial cost, students may pay a greater price if they choose not to exercise as the wave of obesity sweeping across Europe shows no sign of abating. New research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that in 2016 almost one third of Irish adults did not get enough exercise – defined as at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week.

However, financial costs are not the only burden weighing students down. Often sports can be time-consuming, negatively impacting upon a student’s academic performance and causing their social life to suffer. First year Biology student, Tahla Farah, expressed her annoyance at the late scheduling of many sports clubs: “I stopped attending dance classes after the first week because they were held from 8pm to 9pm. I can’t afford to stay on campus all day until that time as I need to do work for my course.”

“Perhaps now is the time to start using the gym – you did pay €128 for it after all”

Balancing a heavy academic workload alongside a growing social circle of friends and classmates, a part-time job, and visiting family back at home can leave many students feeling as though they are walking a tightrope. According to research published by Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), one in five Irish adults aged 19-24 suffer from a mental health disorder. Alarmingly, almost one in five (19%) have thought about suicide. A complex issue arises as exercise has been shown to improve mental health, yet for many students, physical activity is only another box to be ticked, further adding to stress.

What then is the solution? How can students navigate College life whilst remaining active? Thankfully skiing, surfing, and swimming are not the only sports on offer – Trinity boasts a broad selection of over fifty clubs to encourage students to get active. From the weird and wonderful to the eccentric and unique, there are plenty of cheaper sports clubs to avail of. For example, one can immerse themselves in the wizarding world of Harry Potter and join the Quidditch Student Social League for just €10.

If you’re after something a little more grounded in reality, the fencing society will provide you with two classes per week and full use of their facilities for the same price. A multitude of sports societies including GAA and badminton require a fee of just €3 to sign up.

Aside from organised sports events, students can incorporate exercise into their daily routine to save both time and money. Perhaps now is the time to start using the gym – you did pay €128 for it after all. For the courageous, there is also the treacherous option of riding a bike through the streets of Dublin. And if all else fails, there is always the good old-fashioned option of walking to and from college – no skill or expense required. Yet the issue still remains that the price tag attached to sport is financially crippling for many students. Between joining fees, equipment, uniforms, and travel, the costs seem to be spiralling out of control. Clearly the days of backyard football are over.