Asfahani ushers in new York Sport vision

Sports Editor talks to Sam Asfahani, the new York Sport President, on his long-term vision for better facilities, an elite athlete fund and greater success for York

Photograph by George Lowther

Photograph by George Lowther

There’s nothing like returning to a favourite haunt after a triumph – Sam Asfahani, the new York Sport President, exudes confidence and optimism as he settles down for a cheeky midday pint in The Courtyard, the hub of his beloved Langwith.

It’s the morning after the night before: empty plastic glasses are piled high, Scram, from Sesame Street – the theme of the 2010 YUSU elections – still holds court at the DJ booth, and the air hangs heavy with the polar opposites of fulfilled expectations and shattered dreams.

The present belongs to Asfahani though, who talks with natural excitement and charisma on the year ahead – the challenge of controlling York’s 59 clubs, to him, presents an opportunity, not a chore. “It’s not really sunk in yet,” he admits as we sit down. “Wow, another year.”

Asfahani defeated Rob Newton by a couple of hundred votes in one of the most tightly-fought York Sport elections in recent times. He was all-too-happy to expand on his manifesto which won him this opportunity.

At the core of his five-year vision for sport at York is the much-publicised promise to build a 3G pitch behind the sports centre. Cynics may baulk at the colossal costs – upwards of £50,000 – required for the project, but Asfahani is adamant that, in a couple of year’s time, all of the University’s teams will be benefiting from the new artificial surface.

“I want to deliver on this,” he said, “and I want every stage of the planning process to be publicised so the student body can see that I’m making progress.” At the moment, the pitch remains an ambition; it is merely in the pipeline, nothing more. However, upon taking the reins from Emily Scott in July, Asfahani intends to waste little time in putting the wheels in motion.

With planning permission already in place, the logical next step is to seek the best quote from contractors, then draw up a feasible business plan to demonstrate that, through the campus sports teams and those all-important links with the local community, the idea will generate money.

“By the end of my tenure, I would like to see the surface under construction or, at least, have a definite ‘yes’ from all parties involved.”

Sam Asfahani - 14/3/10 - Peter Iveson -

Photograph by Peter Iveson.

But the ambition on the facilities front doesn’t end here. Although slightly irked by his wider responsibilities in YUSU – time arguably better spent putting his sports mandate into action – Asfahani is planning to form a powerful triumvirate with Tim Ngwena, the re-elected President, and Dan Walker, the new Democracy and Services Officer, to push through the much-delayed proposals for a swimming pool on Heslington East.

“We don’t have the power or the money to affect this – it’s all down to the University and the local council,” he said. “However, it is our duty to campaign for it. York Sport needs to get more involved in campaigning for this kind of thing. We need to ensure that our sports clubs can take full advantage of it – for instance, providing markings for octopush games.”

Asfahani also plans to use his position on YUSU committees to reinvigorate policies which have laid dormant since Alex Lacy’s time in office. “We need to be pushing for a sports science department and also a sports development fund for our elite athletes.”

On the latter point, he is well-placed to spearhead the campaign, having coached for the Great Britain American Football team for the last few years – one of his proudest achievements in sport.

“For our top athletes, even £1,000-£2,000 a year to help with travel costs would make a huge difference. However, there is a perception that because these people play minority sports, they shouldn’t receive a penny. As well as essential funding, I also want these people to get the media publicity they deserve.”

In order to sustain this though, Asfahani is under no illusions that attracting new sponsorship is essential and laments the reticence of previous York Sport committees in chasing up the funding that could make such an impact.
“Sports people are the perfect candidates. They possess the qualities that companies like Deloitte and KPMG are looking for – teamwork, passion, commitment.”

So far, so ambitious, but the new President is very conscious of the day-to-day drudgery and earache that can come with the job, saying he will try and spread the load.

“As Langwith Chair, I learnt that delegation is an important skill. I have a large committee and will be splitting the clubs and the projects between them. If someone is enthusiastic and passionate about something, I will have no problems in giving them that task to do.”

The bright spring sunshine of the morning after the elections is almost symbolic of Sam Asfahani’s approach to the duties he is about to assume. Rather than fretting about the present state of sport at York, he is already looking forward to a radiant future with energy and optimism.

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