“Everyone should be playing sport” – an interview with Team Durham President Alex Zimaras, part two

In the second part of my interview with Alex Zimaras, he talks about the importance of sport at University and the challenges faced by Team Durham in overcoming the legacy of COVID and barriers to student participation.


Luke Alsford: Is there anything else in particular that you want to work on while you are Team Durham President?


Alex Zimaras: One of the biggest ones is: to build the culture up again, how it was before COVID. So, things like, on a Wednesday afternoon, if you play, you don’t just then go home. You go into the bar, have a drink, chill with your team and then go and watch the other sports that have happened. On a Wednesday there’s probably about 40 different fixtures down here, every week. So, if you fancy watching a bit of badminton or fancy watching a bit of football or netball, or lacrosse, or whatever it is. Then, it’s here, you can go and watch it with your teams as well. As an athlete, another team watching me, I might watch them and then getting to know that team as well and getting clubs to know each other on more of a personal level. They might choose to go out together and have a joint social or even sit together, after they’ve had training, in the cafe. Things like that, I think. It’s all small little things, but when you start building it up and putting it all together it becomes a big thing and becomes something that you have to focus on throughout the whole year. Otherwise, it gets put down, but I definitely think building the culture around Maiden Castle is definitely my number one priority. 


LA: I was going to ask, I saw you saying on social media that you wanted to bring back Team Durham’s family ethos and make everyone feel part of the building. Do you feel that that has been missing in recent years? 


AZ: Not necessarily missing, but I’d just say that people need a reminder. We just want to make it better. But it’s just like everything, COVID disrupted everything, so you do need a bit of time to build back to what you were doing before that. 


LA: You have seen sport through pre-, during and post-COVID. What’s your assessment of how well Team DU have recovered?


AZ: I’d say participation levels have increased. I’d say colleges are way more involved in sport than they were before. It helps that we are involving them as well. We are telling their staff members, “OK, there is a lacrosse game later, two people from Grey are playing – come down and watch it.” Those kinds of little things help. On the performance side, we obviously are a very good performance Uni and we’re doing very well, we were in about 9 or 10 finals last year for BUCS. I think there is still room to improve. In 2020, we were in about 20-odd semifinals before BUCS cut it all off in March, and most of the semifinals were at home so we would have done brilliantly. But yeah, I think we are all doing very well and it is very exciting, we’ve got a lot of very strong teams that have already started the season really well. I think it’s not necessarily dropped off too bad.


LA: When you say there is kind of room to improve, what does achieving that look like?


AZ: Winning games! This is where I think the culture may help. Having loads of people down to support, even if we don’t necessarily have teams who are as good as they were three years ago, if the team culture is better and everyone is watching and supporting, that brings a lot to the game as well – feeling like you are part of something makes you want to fight for it more. 


LA: Last year, and still now, there was some talk about the cost of living and the costs of sport subs and playing sports at Team Durham. Are you worried about the costs of playing sport at Durham?


AZ: It is something I have been looking into. I mean, obviously the season has started and people have started collecting their subs, so it’s hard to make any change. The thing with this role is it’s only a year, so a lot of the changes you make will come to an effect the year after, when you are not there. Even though that’s annoying for me, because I won’t see it happen, you do still see it happen because you hear about things. So, one of the things I’m doing is trying to work with the smaller clubs, to make sure that they’re more sustainable to be in. Because in a lot of smaller clubs you’ve got subs of £30 that doesn’t seem that bad, compared to a lump-sum of £300. But then you’ve got to add on your training as well, so a lot of smaller clubs will pay for training. The clubs that take a lump sum, they take that all into account: so, they include kit, they include training times and pitch hire, coach contributions, transport contributions and then that’s what makes a big lump sum. If you broke it down for what you’re paying, it’s quite a good deal. When you see that you have to pay £300 at the start of the year for a sport, you are like, “Oh, that’s a pain” and it doesn’t look great. Which is why one of the other things I’m trying to do is, and football did it really well: you break up the payments. Let’s say it’s £200 subs, you pay £110 or £120 in term one and then in term two you’re paying less. So, it’s a win-win. Then, if you break it down, if you’re paying £100 a term for ten weeks, that’s £10 a week. If you have 10 hours a week, that is £1 an hour. So once you start breaking things down, you can kind of see where the costs come from. I do agree that when you look at a lump sum, you’re like, “That’s a lot of money.”


LA: Do you worry about putting people off? That people don’t go for things because of that big headline figure of a certain amount of money?


AZ: There is always some support. I know colleges offer a lot of support with bursaries and they’re quite good with those. And we have a lot of support in scholarships. But the average person probably pays it themselves. A lot of the time you would have had to do it when you were younger. Not you necessarily, but your parents would have had to. Growing up and learning that, “OK, things do cost,” and you do have to pay for them. But it is a lot. It could put some people off. But then, I think the best way to go about it is to talk to the club captain and talk to the treasure and say, “What am I paying for? Can I have a breakdown, just so it makes sense in my head?” So you can see, “Oh, right, it only comes to £4 an hour, that’s perfect. Let’s do it.


LA: What is your overall sense of the importance of playing sport at university?


AZ: Massive. It’s a massive game-changer. I think everyone should be playing sport. I think sport is the best way to distract yourself from work, to give yourself a little break from anything that’s annoying you, to relieve some stress or you want just hit some pads for a bit in the gym or getting into a boxing club and start fighting someone. You can do anything with sports. It’s not just the physical benefits, it’s also the mental benefits. You will meet friends for life when you play with a team. If your team ends up winning something, you then have been part of something which has gone on to accomplish something that not everyone does. If you have a ten-person team and you’ve got hundreds of people that didn’t win the league, you’re one of the very few. I think if you don’t do sporting in Durham, you’re missing out on a lot. You’re missing out on making friends. You’re missing out on just being part of something. And I think that’s what we’re really good at here at Durham is that everyone feels like they’re part of something. Whether it be your college football team, the Uni. If you feel part of the Uni that’s great. That’s what we want, we want people to come in here, wearing stash and be like, “Yeah, I’m part of Team Durham, I’m proud to be part of Team Durham.” 


Featured image: Eve McMullan

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