Who does SUSF serve?

A new path for the university’s sports’ union is needed

Sydney University Sports and Fitness (SUSF) is a student organisation that operates in the millions per year, and yet, realistically, it’s quite difficult for the average student to engage with the organisation in any meaningful way.

SUSF’s primary goal is to be the leading provider of sport, fitness and recreation services to the University of Sydney (USyd) students, according to its own website. It runs sporting clubs and funds the Sydney Uni Sports and Aquatic Centre which boasts an indoor pool, six tennis courts, a multi-function stadium, a gym and more.

However, in recent years, SUSF’s managerial structure has faced significant criticism, from student activists, media and internal members alike. These criticisms involve the lack of oversight and transparency of decisions as well as the absence of any discernible policy which governs them.

A recent SUSF Special General Meeting voted to reform its governance structure. The changes give management fresh hiring and firing powers over executives, previously held by the University. However, these powers come at the cost of giving the University a far more active role in the new managerial structure — they now help elect board members.

A significant challenge for the new board will be resolving major issues in SUSF’s calculus when it comes to allocating its funding. Documents recently obtained by Honi reveal that SUSF allocated $249,167 to the Sydney Flames, a women’s basketball team that competes in the Women’s National Basketball League.  This figure is disproportionate given SUSF’s total expenditure from continuing operations in 2017 was $2,437,499. Providing the Sydney Flames team with 10% of total expenditure is made even worse by the fact that the team only has two USyd students in it.

Additionally, considering the Sydney Flames is merely one among 41 SUSF sporting clubs, the $249k figure amounts provide limited attainable benefits for the wider student population.

With this in mind, it becomes clear how much of student funding is being channelled into services which disproportionately benefit student-athletes outside of USyd.

Considered in the context of extensive membership costs which involve individual faculty and club fees, the fact that SUSF’s generous endowment is enjoyed by a select few becomes quite clearly annunciated.

The dearth of easily accessible information such as SUSF’s meeting minutes or internal management policies on the public record is concerning, particularly because it is largely funded by student money under promises to serve the USyd student body. This organisational opacity means that there can be little to no accountability for the practices of the organisation, including whether the abundance of funds made available to them are in fact being used to further the interests of USyd students, or whether, as in this case, seemingly arbitrary and unchecked decisions are made to grossly over-fund certain clubs like the Sydney Flames. The framework of SUSF’s operations should be separate to the University much like its sibling organisations, the Student Representative Council (SRC) and the University of Sydney Union (USU).

But in the absence of University oversight, SUSF could at least develop a clear model for funding allocation which mirrors the USU’s policy on clubs and societies funding.

Such a model consider the amount of USyd students in a particular team to be a relevant factor in the quantum of funding allocated. It could also make the provision of funding contingent on initiatives such as the promotion of gender equality and disabilities access.

There is no doubt that SUSF is not strained for sources of funding. Not only does it receive the largest share of Student Service and Amenities Fees (SSAF) allocations, receiving over $5 million in 2018, but it also receives significant donations from Hockey Donors’ and ‘Boatshed Appeal Donors’. For comparison, USyd’s Student Support Services – which provides free student welfare services such as Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) – are allotted the smallest slice of SSAF. They received just over $55,000 in 2018; 0.3% of the total fund, compared to SUSF’s 32%. On top of this, SUSF was granted a loan of $1 million by Sydney University itself in 2017.

If SUSF is to make good on their claims to be acting in the interests of USyd students broadly, its new management must address significant issues in the way the organisation makes its decisions.

Policies regarding funding to clubs and societies must be made far more concrete and transparent, and student voices on the board should be elevated with regards to them.

When millions of student dollars are being funnelled into a service that promises to benefit us, it must at least attempt to be accessible to all students.

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