Wits sport secondary to academics

WITS sport undergoes budget cuts at the beginning of each year like every other department and is less important to the university than academics and research.

“Sports has always been a secondary priority [at Wits], the most important priority is research and academics,” says John Baxter, director of Wits Sports Administration.

“We might not all agree [about this] but the reality is that you have to get qualified. It’s where the university’s thrust and responsibility is.”

Every department makes a budget proposal and is allocated a certain amount each year and not every department receives the funds they request.

“Sports, like the SRC and any other departments at Wits, is going to be faced with budget cuts,” Baxter says.

Most clubs feel tight budgets and strict quotation procedures make it difficult to run their clubs effectively. Baxter says they have survived over many years and have never had a situation where clubs are short at the end of the year.

“It’s debatable how much money is required to survive,” says Baxter.

He says the procedures of accessing club budgets were put in place as there needed to be accountability from both club and administrative members. Regular meetings through the year, if attended frequently, give sports club representatives the opportunity to discuss their budgets and raise issues.

Wits Sports Council chairperson, Brendan von Essen says the process is a traditional university practice and is “largely accepted as a workable evil” which “could lead to frustration as it is lengthy and has resulted in suppliers being unwilling to work with Wits”.

Baxter says sport is voluntary and outside the academic arena and students participate because they want to and should know there is a cost implication to it.

“Other universities have a different perspective on sport and what it can achieve for the university. Their emphasis is placed differently and they use the publicity they get differently,” he says.

Wits has almost 10 000 students registered with its various sporting clubs, a competitive sporting code, inter-university and inter-faculty leagues and varsity shield games that generate a large spectatorship. However Von Essen “personally believe[s] this exceptional campus presence is often lost on the university council and senior management”.

After 32 years at Wits, Baxter is retiring at the end of this year and has played a vital role in maintaining and developing Wits sport. He believes sport is valuable to student development and their growth as individuals, giving them a social and administrative advantage when they step into the working world.

“Sport has integrated people at Wits,” he says.