Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Culture and Athletics

Originally published in the Daily Princetonian on 8 February 2012.

In the past two years, I have raised funds extensively for both cultural events and to set up a club sport. My personal experience has suggested that finding cash for cultural events is easier than finding resources to buy sports equipment. This bias raises interesting questions about event funding on campus.

Of course I understand that other people in similar positions may not have had the same experience I did and that my analysis is made more difficult by the differences in financial requirements, the number of possible funders and also the fundraisers’ knowledge of the systems they are navigating.

My general interactions with funding applications have suggested that it is not terribly hard to find financial support from the University to sponsor cultural events, at least if you look in the right places. Since events that spread awareness about cultural diversity (or even simply provide entertainment) often target a greater audience than most sports clubs, it is perhaps understandable that this is so. In addition to the USG Projects Board, various administrative bodies (and their associated awareness campaigns such as Alcohol Initiative), the residential colleges, as well as academic departments can provide funding for cultural events.

In contrast, Princeton athletics remains the primary funder of sporting activities. As such, annual funding requests for athletics are more regimented, formal and more heavily scrutinized. Consequently, it is much more difficult to set up a sporting organization than to plan a cultural event. In this light, it seems that we are undervaluing sporting events in comparison to our overly abundant free-food supply.

It is harder to prove to authorities that a sports club is established and running with a mandatory one-year trial period for all new club sports, during which no funding is provided. Other student organizations appear to have it much easier in terms of proving that a devoted membership exists and that interest has reached critical mass. In fact, most organizations can get by without doing this at all. Take, for example, the extensive list of dormant cultural organizations that may theoretically receive funding for occasional events.

Curiously, there is a greater range of metrics for what athletic groups have accomplished than for cultural groups, which would suggest that funding opportunities might be easier to come by. Counterintuitively, this results in an environment where funding becomes harder to find for club sports that need initial support to get them off the ground. This is not a criticism of the athletics department but an interesting distinction that prompts the question of what campus funding is for.

Campus athletics does a good job of accommodating club sports where possible. Makeshift practice space in Dillon is arranged; storage and transport facilities are catered for as well. There are limited fundraising activities available, too: The rugby team, for example, referees at the annual dodgeball tournament to support its annual needs.

But it is almost impossible to buy sporting equipment, make coaches available and create a more permanent practice and playing space without funding and renewed infrastructural support. Club sports are hence disadvantaged, especially when compared to other student groups.

Perhaps the goal of campus funding is, broadly, to enrich the student experience, as well as to add to the lives of other University members and the surrounding community. Indeed, cultural groups also cater to the broader Princeton community. Campus athletics, on the other hand, are restricted largely to students, but they nonetheless have the ability to add to the student experience as much as other campus activities.

The nature of this funding disparity is such, however, that nothing but a top-level administrative decision is likely to change the availability of funds direct to athletic organizations. Considering that sporting needs also encompass fields and storage space, sports without mass support will find it very hard to get adequate support at all. The result is that a sporting organization with a similar membership to that of non-athletic student groups will find it much harder to get off the ground.

Of course, it is difficult to regulate support to capital-intensive student interests such as club sports. The question then becomes about the fairness of potentially disadvantaging students for wanting to play a sport for which there is not a mass campus interest and hence no prior organization.

Club sports and cultural groups can add to campus life in similar ways. Clubs already contribute to events such as Cane Spree, and the international nature of some niche sports can be further used to spread cultural awareness. Additionally, sports have the added benefit of improving student health and fitness. Extending opportunities for club sports to work with initiatives that work toward these goals, and rewarding clubs with infrastructural support can help correct this structural disadvantage. Club sports are great additions to campus and can become much more given a bit of support. A look at the funding structure is probably a good start.