At this year’s annual College Varsity on Sunday 28 February, the whole campus will hopefully be sporting rainbow laces to “promote the inclusive nature of sport at York”. Grace Clarke, YUSU Sport President, and Scott Dawson, YUSU Wellbeing and Community Officer want “every single player, participant, staff member and spectator at College Varsity” wearing them in their continual push for equal opportunities in sport.
Even the Vice-Chancellor of the University has reportedly declared his willingness to don the brightly coloured accessories as part of the initiative. The laces primarily symbolise “kicking homophobia out of sport” but Clarke has declared that YUSU also “want to make this a broader message, and make Sport inclusive to all regardless of disability, race, gender or sexuality”.
The plans will be rolled out at the annual Varsity with Durham University in an attempt to put YUSU’s aims at the forefront of the sporting community. However the practicality of the initiative has been called into question by some who feel that the measure is a little inconvenient and ambitious.
Third year Politics student George Nanidis told Nouse, “I’m perfectly happy to show support for inequality issues, but relacing shoes for one day seems a bit like overkill.
“It’s nice to make the gesture and raise awareness, but there are surely more purposeful ways to put these issues at the forefront of the student body and the York Sport community.”
Regardless, the day promises to be eventful for all, with mascot races, new sports such as tennis and chess, and competition from Durham. The darts will act as the closing ceremony on the Sunday, with hopes for the kind of atmosphere generated by Roses’ popular darts evening.
The qualifying weekend takes places in Week five, when the top fourteen teams will be battling it out to the last two in order to play against Durham on the day. This year there will be 13 sports in total, the most ever to have played at the event. The rainbow laces have been pioneered by a number of groups and charities in the wider world of sport. Stonewall launched the initiative ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’, encouraging local and national sides alike to adopt the laces.
Back in 2013, Everton FC and Queen’s Park Rangers players, including Joey Barton, put their support behind Stonewall’s campaign. Manchester United chose not to don the laces amid disagreements between Stonewall and Football v Homophobia that ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ reinforced “stereotypes that ensure homophobia exists” and “blurred the territory” between homophobic language and football banter.
By continuing to focus on Equal Opportunities at York hopefully the line between acceptable and insulting comments will remain clear. The laces are an outward expression of a certain level of respect expected from the wearer. If everyone sports the laces, they will visually deter homophobic and sexist comments from the event and add to the grander statement being made. This is only one aspect of diversifying University sport under the Equal Opportunities scheme.
Building up to the day of College Varsity there will be sessions in Weeks three, six and nine run by LGBT and Women’s officers. The introduction of women only York Active classes last term received an extremely positive response, according to Clarke, and she is therefore keen to explore this further. With more classes and opportunities, YUSU hope that women’s involvement in sport will continue to grow at York.
A new addition to the movement is a consent campaign, using sport as a forum to discuss the issues associated with this topic. Clarke is also pursuing the introduction of self defence classes, focusing primarily on teaching college officers first, and then feeding lessons through to all. The idea is to equip those interested with basic combat skills and techniques.