Roses are White, but don’t lose sight!


Rebecca Nelmes highlights the importance of respect during Roses weekend

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Image by Ben Jordan

By Rebecca Nelmes

For the first time in four years, York is hosting an in-person Roses tournament, a competition rooted in a centuries long feud between our lovely city and Lancaster.

The historians among us may be aware of the fifteenth century war between the two respective cadet branches of the House of Plantagenet. After thirty two years, six kings and innumerable bloodshed, the House of Lancaster won, securing the Tudor dynasty. Four hundred years later in 1965, the two universities went head to head on the Ouse, and like Bosworth, the rest is history. The competition boasts over fifty sports and is considered the largest University varsity in Europe.

Yet, it’s a well known proverb that every rose has its thorns, and in the case of sport, its beauty is often hindered by a reluctance to modernise. Friendly competition sometimes gets feudal, and this comes at the expense of both the players and the spectators.

Headlines like the racist abuse targeting Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho following the penalty shootout of the 2020 Euros turn many potential fans away from playing and spectating competitive sport as they feel unsafe in the stadium as minorities. The Open University recorded that there were over 80,000 abusive tweets towards players, and of these half were racist. This inevitably builds pressure for the affected players as they know that the second they step foot on the court, they are targeted and held to higher standards. Multiculturalism is so integral to the beauty and success of this country, and these values should be reflected in our teams and attitudes. Last year York Vision reported on allegations of racism demonstrating that racism towards athletes has in the past reached our campuses.

When speaking on the basis of sex, sport is notoriously patriarchal, with women’s fixtures making up only 13 percent  of the sports coverage on British TV channels. This lack of representation is highly discouraging, and creates a gender gap as 1.5 million fewer women than men regularly compete in a sport and those who do are often met with sexist comments and discrimination.

In Roses the sports are largely gender balanced as is the coverage of the sports, however there is always room for improvement at a local and national level.

It is for this reason that the theme of Roses 2023 is ‘Shine a Light’, where we will be raising awareness on sexual violence in sport and how to prevent it. Over 40 percent  of athletes face sexual abuse in a sporting setting and this completely violates the atmosphere of trust and teamwork that sport should aim to ignite.

University is a place for discovery, diversity and inclusion and to make sure that this is reflected in our games, both York and Lancaster sign the Respect the Rose pledge promising to stand against discrimination in sport. While the matches being held at Roses showcase our elite players, the hope is the message of equality trickles down and more people feel safe to take part in sporting events. After all, fitness is for everyone and nothing can beat that adrenaline feeling!

That being said, unlike Richard of York, we do not give battle in vain. The York Whites can put up a fight, but we shouldn’t be mediaeval about it. Lancaster, bring it on. Win, lose, or draw, we’ll meet you in Salvos after.