Sport in the College over the years

From Floreat Domus Issue: 
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Roopa Unnikrishnan with her gold medalIt is not only the tutorial system which is so special to Oxford and Cambridge. As all of us fortunate enough to have been to ‘Oxbridge’ know, every college runs a wide range of activities, from croquet to chess, from ladies’ football to lacrosse - all this on top of what is organised at university level.

Balliol is no different and, despite the pressures caused by the desire for academic success, sport and other extra-curricular activities still play an important part in the lives of many current students at the College. You cannot approach Hall without being made aware of the Women’s 1st VIII successes in 1996 and 2001.

And who knows where mere participation might lead? After playing soccer for Balliol, Ravindra Chetty (1983) has gone on to become President of the Mauritius Football Association and last year addressed an important FIFA conference in Buenos Aires on racism in football.

As well as those taking part, Balliol has also had its share of outstanding sportsmen and women. I was interested to note that just over ten years ago the former tennis and cricket blue Kunwar Mahindar Singh (1938), who went on to captain India’s tennis team, won the International Tennis Federation Men’s Doubles for Over 70s at Kesthely in Hungary, while 40 years ago the College boasted two international sportsmen, England rugby captain Richard Sharp (1959) and the Nawab of Pataudi (1959), who went on to captain India at cricket.

Three Gold Medallists

In recent years the College has produced three Gold Medallists at Commonwealth Games events, Roopa Unnikrishnan (1995) representing India (setting a new record and later to win a Silver Medal at the World Cup in Atlanta) at Rifle Shooting in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and Katrina Lythgoe (1991) rowing for Scotland at the 1999 Regatta in Canada. Matthew Syed (1991), who played cricket for Balliol, went on to make his mark at another sport - table tennis. In addition to being Commonwealth Champion three times - the last time being in New Delhi in 2001 - he has been the England number one since 1995 and also represented Great Britain in the 1992 and 2000 Olympics.

Other Balliol sportsmen who have gone on to represent their country at the Olympic Games include Oxford fencing captain Hugh Kernohan in 1988, King Harald (1960) sailing for Norway in 1964, 1968 and 1972, and John Maddocks (1978), another sailor whose involvement in the 1984 Olympics came three years after his DPhil in Maths - mens sana in corpore sano indeed!

All the same I cannot help feeling that, for a variety of reasons, sport now has a lower profile than it did 40 or more years ago. Although there are still some heroic achievements, such as that of Dan Snow last year combining a First in History with captaincy of the Oxford University Boat Club, and Sebastian Fitzgerald being made Man of the Match in the most recent Varsity Rugby Match, I suspect that it is far easier than it used to be for the less athletic to avoid being press-ganged into a college team, and that team secretaries have a harder time getting a full side out, especially when fewer students are free of afternoon academic commitments than used to be case. Perhaps I am wrong!