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02 August 2020 | in NUSF News, FISU Student Ambassadors

Student Advisory Group connects with UniSport Australia CEO

Australia 2

In 1870, a longstanding rivalry was established between Sydney and Melbourne Universities, two of Australia’s oldest and grandest. This instance of intervarsity rivalry is in the form of a boat race in which the two sides battle it out to prove the dominance of not only their universities, but also their respective cities and states. Afterwards, hands are shaken, stories are shared, and friendships are formed.


It is this fervent yet reverent spirit that forms the cultural core of university sport. 150 years later, UniSport Australia continues to foster that spirit through 42 member universities across the country.


Australia 1UniSport Australia CEO Mark SinderberryIt starts from the top: UniSport Australia CEO Mark Sinderberry is passionate about enriching student life through sport. Sinderberry has been with UniSport Australia since late 2018 and he looks to the future with goals of demonstrating and improving the role of sport in student wellbeing and culture in universities.


Students are the key stakeholders in university sport. As such, UniSport Australia has been actively engaging with students to provide them with a platform on which to voice their ideas, concerns, and feedback.


In 2019, the UniSport Student Advisory Group was formed. The Group provides a direct line to Sinderberry and is composed of student volunteers from across the country, allowing 10 different universities to share and learn from each other as well as liaise with UniSport Australia. They have focused on the themes of engagement and inclusion, two crucial foundation blocks for building healthy sporting culture.


Student athletes will attest that sport is a fundamental part of their university life, not only providing balance to academic load, but also providing a sense of belonging to the university community. The value of sport cannot be underestimated, and Sinderberry believes "Active students can achieve lifelong success. The values and skills learned in sport complement the goals students attend university to accomplish."


But how can the value of university sport be measured? UniSport Australia is driving an initiative to provide universities with quantitative information on the effects of sport participation on student outcomes. Using data analytics; variables such as retention, graduation, and postgraduate return rates of students will be measured against their level of participation in sport. For the first time, the demonstrable, data-based evidence for the impact of sport for a university will be available for presentation to the leaders of higher education in Australia.


The motivation behind undertaking this exciting project is related to UniSport Australia’s goal of raising awareness about the importance of sport to student achievement and wellbeing, and hence increasing sport participation on campus. At a grassroots level though, Sinderberry also highlighted the importance of working to continually improve the experience of existing participants.


Australian UniRoos supporters were a steady sight in the event stands of Napoli 2019, particularly at the Piscine Scandone swimming complex.In the last three years, UniSport Australia has shifted towards quality competition and developing intervarsity relationships. On this, Sinderberry commented, “We have re-introduced and re-focused what UniSport is about in terms of being sport-oriented.” He noted that though this endeavour has been challenging, it has been incredibly successful, with a 9-year high for approval ratings recorded in 2019.


Australia is a geographically vast country, but one way UniSport helps universities stay connected is through National University Leagues and Competitions such as the AON Rugby 7s. Run for the third time in 2019, this women’s competition was highly popular, and students from 10 universities got behind their teams to show their support.


Another fantastic event, the 24th Indigenous Nationals was run in Perth, hosted by The University of Western Australia. The annual competition was a great success and a wonderful celebration of sport, Australian indigenous culture, and cross-country connections.


Undoubtedly, 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone; amongst numerous other adjustments, the annual UniSport Australia Nationals competition has had to be postponed until 2021. Though this is disappointing for students and staff, the innovative and resilient side of UniSport Australia has shown itself in the organisation’s handling of the matter. Social media has been used as a channel to stay connected with and encourage students to keep active; online challenges and DIY workouts have been shared over various platforms to engage students, and UniSport has been communicating with member universities to ensure their voices are heard.


UniSport Australia recognises the importance of student wellbeing, especially during these uncertain times. Mark Sinderberry is adamant that in the coming months of recovery, UniSport Australia will be there for students and universities, making sure that student wellbeing improves and thrives through sport.


By: Max Qua