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Women excluded from top level of sport by BUCS, say uni canoe polo teams


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37 university canoe polo clubs have signed an open letter to British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS), protesting new canoe polo regulations which they say force out women from top squads.

The letter was originally shared on social media by the University of London canoe polo team, and has since been signed by 37 university teams across the country, as well as 20 non-university teams.

Until recently, canoe polo teams competed in Open or Women’s categories. In the open category, teams were selected based on ability only, and not based on gender. This meant that all genders could compete alongside each other; however BUCS’ categories have now been altered to Men’s and Women’s.

Following initial protests, BUCS posted explanations on their website, however the move was still called into question by the signatories of the open letter.

Many teams competing in the Open League have historically been male-dominated, but even some of these teams have protested the changes, seeing it as positive that women could previously compete alongside men at the highest level of the sport.

In their first letter to their BUCS representative, the University of London team wrote, "The best international-standard ladies produced in this country have come from an open training system that allows them to push themselves with their male compatriots. In our own club, regularly playing with the men and competing within the open team have made our ladies fiercely competitive; this year the team have been promoted to Ladies Division 1 and the individual players have even been selected onto GB full and development squads."

When explaining the move BUCS stated that gender separation would make the sport fairer. They cited member feedback that women competing in both the Open and Women’s Leagues were "doubling up" on BUCS points, giving them an unfair advantage.

In addition, BUCS pointed out that there would be more individual competitors if leagues were separated, and that their leagues would now comply with officially recognized International Canoe Federation categories, which are separated into men and women.

However the signatories of the open letter find this move incompatible with Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign, which aims to empower women through sport, as well as BUCS’ own #TakeAStand campaign, which aims to make the university sport experience as inclusive as possible, tackling racism, sexism, and homophobia.

Clubs which have until now prepared for competition in the Open League will have to change their training strategy and tactics ahead of tournaments later in the year, possibly putting them at a disadvantage.

University of London Canoe Polo Captain Eleanor Wong commented, "I have been training hard to get into the Open Squad for Canoe Polo, where I play on an equal level with and against men.

"This change has felt like a direct slap in the face – to be basically told I cannot compete at the highest level of university polo with my male teammates, because I am female and therefore can only compete in a female-only league."

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