Provisions for elite athletes, education, and youth population in April leaves third levels students excluded from equal access during a traditional period of significant stress and anxiety which could be addressed through organized sport and physical activity
Student Sport Ireland (SSI) has called upon the Irish Government to permit higher education and third level students who are currently preparing for year-end exams access to outdoor campus sports facilities and small group activity.
With public health officials continuing to highlight the beneficial role that outdoor social mixing has played in reducing the number of Covid-19 cases the coming weeks will see, third level students who live on campus or locally continue to be locked out of outdoor campus facilities at a time when all other full-time education is now back in the classrooms, playgrounds, and sports fields.
SSI affiliated representatives have again highlighted their continued concern that the ability of organised student sport and physical activity in addressing the significant increase in mental health issues and access of counselling services across institutions over the past year has been missed.
SSI President Matthew Dossett stated that “the period of April and May is a peak time for high stress, anxiety, and social exclusion within the University and College environment due to end of year exams. Sport and physical activity are a known support and complimentary element that combats this issue for students, particularly those who may live in student accommodation or with limited social contact”.
Mr Dossett continued “concerns have been raised by our members over the ongoing wellbeing of third level students, who despite other areas of education returning to face to face activity and organised sport and physical activity in small groups, will still be excluded from equal provision under current Government of Ireland measures due to come into effect from 26 April.”
Over 6,000 Irish and international students are currently living in university and college accommodation without any access to onsite group sport and physical activity programmes. The easing of restrictions on the 19th and 26th April allow some individual sport facility access, but still prohibit these students from taking part in safe on campus outdoor non-contact group activity that is being enabled for others in an education setting and to young people.
Universities and colleges in Ireland are providing a significant sporting infrastructure and facility network to local communities, external clubs, and programmes and athletes designated ‘elite’ under Government and Sport Ireland guidance. Serious concern has been raised by the sector that restriction updates coming into effect on the 19th and 26th April would result in Student Sport facilities being available and prioritised to young people and elite athletes, but not to students, and that the reopening of campus facilities for non-campus communities will result in further concern and distress for students who themselves will continue not to have access.
Mr Dossett concluded “As it stands the local community and external users will from the 26th April have access to campus outdoor facilities. The scenario may well arise that an 18-year-old leaving cert student who lives near a member college will have full access to that college’s outdoor facilities while their 19-year-old friend or sibling who is a fresher at that college is denied access to the same facilities. We see this as being unfair and not equitable. We welcome the latest comments used over the weekend that could see further restrictions lifted in late May and June, however, these will come too late to address the issue being raised by our membership”.