Where does your £35 go?

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Much has been made of the University’s decision to introduce a blanket fee for DU Sport membership, with many students seemingly confused by the reasoning behind such a fee. In an interview with Team Durham President, Alex Zimaras, Palatinate sought to clarify the details behind it. Zimaras also seemed eager to clear up any miscommunications.

“It’s a £35 fee for all Team Durham athletes to pay before they join their respective clubs. Once you pay it, it gives you access to all other clubs as well.”

Many athletes have been left perplexed by the necessity of such a fee, especially as they already pay a significant amount of money for their individual sports’ subs.

“The pricing model wasn’t adequate for the majority of students that did Team Durham sport. For example, outdoor clubs had always paid pitch hire, going off the model we had in place before this facility was even built. Outdoor clubs would pay pitch hire and indoor clubs wouldn’t pay for what they were using in the facility. Obviously, there’s a new building, and with that comes a lot of maintenance and repair costs, which are increasing in price every year. So, we had to charge indoor clubs, otherwise the space they were using wouldn’t have been to the quality that they needed for the level of sport here.”

“So we looked at how much it would cost each club and realised it would cripple clubs and they would cease to exist this year, as subs would have, in some cases, increased by £250 each. We had to find a way to prevent that but also make it fair for outdoor clubs because they were paying thousands of pounds each year, so we introduced this fee that spreads out across the whole membership.”

“We have around 3000 students that play DU Sport. So, we sat down with around ten clubs captains from outdoor clubs, indoor clubs, and clubs that don’t use [Maiden Castle]. We said we need to change what we’re doing. What do you want to see and what’s going to be something you would pay? Obviously outdoor clubs are happy because they would lose this pitch hire; indoor clubs when presented with the fee said ‘£35 doesn’t sound a lot compared to £250 in some cases’.” Not all clubs were so enthused by the ideas initially however.

“The ones we had to work with were the non-facility users. We talked with them once every three weeks until we came to a plan that we wanted. The biggest thing was that we would introduce club grants. Before Covid there was a way clubs could bid for grants for various things such as facility hire, equipment or whatever they wanted.”

Keen to point out the benefits to the new system, Zimaras dispelled any notions of profitable intent from the University.

“All the money that goes into the membership goes back into students. That’s the main point people are missing; they think it’s for profit. It’s not.”

Everything we’re seeing has been decided by students themselves

“The other thing was to increase the BUCS entries pot. There’s a set amount of money which goes towards people going to BUCS events and because of the membership we can put more money into that pot which means more people are able to compete and more people can play sport.”

A lot of focus of student ire has gone towards the seemingly inadequate benefits offered to those who pay the fee, such as discount on the gym and hot drinks from Maiden Castle cafe. Despite wider student dissatisfaction, Zimaras maintained the ideas had been considered carefully.

“It’s little things like that which we spoke to club captains about and they came up with basically. Everything we’re seeing has been decided by students themselves and that’s the main thing I need people to get. Even to just get the £20 off the gym, we had to fight for that, we had to fight for the café as well. It was a case of finding out what the students wanted and then going and getting it done.”

“For some clubs it’s different because of external facility hire such as the swimming club – Freeman’s Quay have raised their hire price this year. That’s gone up which means we’re giving them more from the membership to cover that. Other clubs as well have gone up, which means subs for that club might have gone up, but it’s not an extraordinary amount. Each club determines what their subs are – we can only advise them. The majority of clubs’ subs won’t have gone up – I know some have gone down. I’ve worked with a few clubs to show their members how much they’re getting. So, I tell them to break it down, and sometimes people are paying around £1 per hour to play sport, which is very good.”

Despite the introduction of the blanket fee, it appears as though the extra money has turned few people away.

“I can’t think of anyone who has come to me and said “I can’t play sport because of this”’. The people who have complained and the one’s I’ve seen on Durfess and heard – there haven’t been many; I thought there’d be more. I’ve sat down all the club captains and they’re all happy, so it’s just a case of that message being sent across to their clubs and club members. I think once people understand why, they’ll see why it’s happening and I can’t see why they’d complain with the rationale behind it.”

It appears that the major misstep of Team Durham was their failure to publicise the reasoning and benefits when suddenly introducing an extra fee, rather than the nature of the fee itself.

Hopefully all DU athletes find that this membership does not hinder their various sporting pursuits.

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