British Columbia's university varsity sport programs are joining forces to provide a unified voice to advocate for student-athletes.
The B.C. Universities Sport Alliance (BCUSA) is comprised of the province's seven athletic departments competing at the top level of university sport – the University of British Columbia, the University of British Columbia Okanagan, University of the Fraser Valley, University of Northern British Columbia, Thompson Rivers University, Trinity Western University, and the University of Victoria. All seven institutions are members of the Canada West conference and national governing body U SPORTS.
Formalizing the BCUSA will give B.C.'s university sport programs a more effective platform to provide policy input on a provincial level, and increase awareness and understanding of universities' contribution to the sport system.
Kavie Toor, UBC managing director of athletics and campus recreation, will serve as the inaugural chair of the BCUSA, while TRU director of athletics and recreation Curtis Atkinson will serve as vice-chair.
"Knowing that our voices are stronger together, we're very excited to have all seven B.C.-based U SPORTS universities pulling in the same direction to advocate on behalf of our amazing student-athletes," Toor said. "The past 18 months has shed light on the ongoing challenges we face as post-secondary athletic institutions while also bringing new issues to the fore. By creating the BCUSA, we hope to combine our strengths to advocate for a better understanding and recognition of our thousands of high-performance student-athletes and their programs."
"This is a great example of how our respective institutions can work collaboratively," added Tom Huisman, UBC Okanagan's director of athletics and recreation. "Although our teams compete against one another week in and week out during the school year, and we are always looking for an edge on how we can come out victorious in our pursuit of a Canada West Championship, we all have the same focus of providing the best experience for our student-athletes. The formation of this alliance will provide another opportunity to accomplish that goal."
The need for a stronger collective voice on a provincial level became clear amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Canada West's membership extends across B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, yet with COVID-19 protocols determined on a province-by-province basis, a one-size-fits-all approach proved elusive. B.C.'s athletic directors began meeting on a monthly basis to navigate the pandemic together and prepare for an eventual return to sport.
As restrictions pertaining to sport began to loosen, exemptions for high-performance athletes were instituted in B.C., but university athletes were not initially included in that group. Based on feedback from the provincial government and lead agency viaSport, it became clear that there was a gap in terms of advocacy for student-athletes.
The BCUSA's impact will extend beyond simply providing a voice for student-athletes in times of crisis like the pandemic. The organization will advocate for Athlete Assistance Program (AAP) and sport host funding, contribute to safe sport movements, and provide recommendations on policy and coaching development. There is also potential for the BCUSA to foster further intra-provincial sport collaboration between universities.