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Sports: an important part of a complete education

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In our positions as co-chairs of the Council of Athletics and Recreation (CAR), we are frustrated by the lack of attention given to physical activity and recreation in the Provost’s White Paper, “Stepping Up: 2004-2010.”

CAR includes students both undergraduate and graduate-across all disciplines and on all three campuses-as well as three student governments (SAC, APUS, and GSU), faculty, alumnae and alumni, and staff.

This wide-reaching constituency agrees on some basic principles:

-That athletic and recreation opportunities at the University of Toronto take a number of forms; from individual recreation, to intramural sports played for competition and fun, to elite competitive Varsity athletics. Participants pursue these activities for a variety of reasons, which can vary from achieving individual goals and addressing health concerns, to simply enjoying the pleasure of physical activity.

-That recreation and physical activity offer significant health benefits to students, faculty, and staff; and considerably enhance their experience at the University of Toronto. Physical activity can improve both physiological and psychological quality of life. Among other things, it reduces the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, as well as easing depression, stress, and anxiety.

-That participating in physical activity and recreation also provides significant educational and cultural benefits. Athletics and recreation are learning beyond the classroom. To pit academics against physical activity is to miss the point.

-That students and faculty at U of T are already standard bearers for this message. It may be convenient to argue that students’ unwillingness to bear a levy to pay for new athletic facilities translates into a lack of interest in physical activity and recreation. But this too misses the point. Students are voting with their bodies, not their wallets. Outside of Robarts Library, it is hard to imagine facilities used more frequently than the Athletic Centre, Varsity field and stadium, and the front and back campuses. The Athletic Centre alone was visited by 22,500 different students in 2002-2003, who used the facility nearly 430,000 times. Well over 3,000 students participate in intramural athletics, and another 795 represent this institution on Varsity teams. Despite the increasing popularity of these facilities, they are taxed to their limits, and the student experience suffers. This semester, 97 intramural teams representing nearly 1,000 participants are on waiting lists because facility and resource constraints keep them from playing.

-That the value of athletics and recreation to U of T and the concerns regarding the role played by the central administration in providing these opportunities were articulated loudly during the consultations surrounding the Green Papers. “Stepping Up” fails to alleviate the frustrations of all at U of T who value physical activity and recreation.

Both the Green Papers and “Stepping Up” have stressed the importance of considering “life beyond the classroom.” However, the definition of what is “beyond the classroom” is so narrow as to exclude the most popular extra-classroom activities on our campuses. Athletics and recreation should not be reduced to “student space”-which the White Paper does. Rather than space occupiers, they are meaningful experiences and opportunities-experiences that extend beyond the playing fields.

What do we want our students to take away from their time here? Surely U of T has the vision to see that producing “great minds” means educating healthy ones as well. The role of athletics and recreation in this process is paramount.

The “Stepping Up” strategic planning process is the perfect opportunity to revisit the University of Toronto’s commitment to physical activity and recreation. Now is the time for the university to reinvest in these opportunities and facilities by reinventing “beyond the classroom.”