Why do we need a higher Sports Centre charge?

sport1On October 3rd, TCD students voted in a preferendum to increase the mandatory annual charge for use of the Sports Centre from €90 to €120. The implementation of this increased charge will be formally approved by a referendum to be held alongside the Students’ Union sabbatical officer elections later this academic year. Should the €120 charge be approved by referendum, it will continue the recent trend of an increase in the levy.

Despite this increase, the current charge is deemed unfeasible if the sports centre is to maintain the current ratio of student members to outside, non-student members. Based on the 2012/13 annual report, student members comprise 72% of the membership, with the remaining 28% consisting of outside, non-student members, College’s head of sports and recreation, Michelle Tanner, tells me. This figure is likely to rise in favour of students in the 2013/14 report to 74%, although this report is yet to be finalised. Should the current €90 charge remain in place, the percentage of students in this ratio would decrease and students would face the possibility of paying an additional charge upon visit to the gym at peak times, decreed to be between 4pm and 9pm. This is due to the fact that, according to Tanner, “running costs are increasing and in order to meet these, increase income generation is required”. Furthermore, she believes that “certain areas, such as the Fitness Centre, has reached beyond acceptable and safe capacity levels” and that more money is required to “increase capacity, satisfy demand, and provide more opportunities for the benefit of student sport”.

While the €120 charge should maintain the current ratio of student to non-student members, and Tanner reiterates that “the Sports Department is committed and wants to encourage the trend of more usage by more students”, she also emphasises the importance of maintaining some outside membership. Tanner believes that “the availability of sports facilities and programmes to College staff is essential for healthy living and work/lifestyle balance and it is also beneficial to offer Trinity graduates the opportunity to retain a link with College.” She also makes the point that the income derived from the usage of the gym by those outside the student body is integral to the financial status of sport in College and to the development of sport for student benefit.

While maintaining the current status quo in the Sports Centre, it is also proposed that the €120 charge will aid the further development of facilities offered, the implementation of a new fitness theatre space chief among them. When asked about this new space, Tanner replied that “definitive plans have yet to be collated but a dedicated additional space has been identified.  It is hoped that most of the free weight training can be moved to the new space so that additional CV [cardiovascular] and resistance equipment can be introduced in to the current Fitness Theatre.  The result will be increased CV and weight training space, i.e. more students will be able to use the facilities”.

It is proposed that the increased charge will also to develop programmes for sports scholarships. Last year, Trinity College awarded 18 scholarships to high-performing student athletes across a wide range of sports including gaelic football, hockey, air pistol shooting, rowing and badminton. The amount of scholarships awarded, however, is fewer than the 28 offered by UCD. The provisions will not necessarily lead to an increased in the amount of sports scholarships on offer, with the Sports Centre approach based on “quality, not quantity”. Tanner admitted that “whilst the current Sports Scholarship Programme in Trinity is of great benefit to the recipients, our offer does not compete with that of other institutions.” According to Tanner, increased funds will allow the college to increase its appeal to elite competitors. “We want to attract high performing athletes to Trinity to achieve a quality academic degree from Ireland’s top university, as well as compete for Trinity teams in the top leagues at university and national levels,” she said. “To do so, we need to offer a more improved package, for example, access to rooms, medical support services, conditioning, mentoring and academic flexibility. We should all take pride in the performances and results of Trinity teams and the involvement of talented sportspeople in our clubs is part of the ‘performance sport’ objective of the pending Strategy for Sport.”

When asked to justify the current payment model of a mandatory annual levy in opposition to a pay-per-usage system or optional membership fees, Tanner says that “the current model was proposed and voted by students for students and offers all students an affordable opportunity to take part in sport, at the level of their choosing.  Relative to other their level institutions in Ireland and the UK, even the proposed increase charge of €120 is typically half the cost of sports memberships elsewhere.” She says that, in the last two years, “more students have activated their card to use the sports facilities and the frequency of usage has increased.  It is therefore reasonable to suggest that the current model is well received, utilised and is of immense benefit to students.” Tanner also points out that students who endure financial hardships are exempt from the charge.

Tanner believes that the Sports Centre is a large-scale operation; an opinion borne into fact by virtue of figures. Over 10,000 students activate their card each year to access sports facilities. The Sports Centre has an annual footfall of over 350,000, with over 100,000 facility bookings each year. It also supports and facilitates 50 fitness classes and courses each week, 50 student clubs, extensive student recreational programme of fitness instruction, classes, personal training, intramural events and children’s sports programmes including camps at Halloween, Easter, summer, and during the mid-term break; as well as a Junior Leader Programme involving 40 young people, and weekly swimming lessons.