Along with the return to classes, September brought with it the return of in-person athletic events. After more than a year and a half of isolation, students can finally unite behind the university’s talented varsity sports teams. Although the McGill community has welcomed the resumption of athletics on campus, many of McGill’s teams are underfunded and underappreciated—a flippant treatment that rebuffs the enthusiasm and value they bring to the university.
The recent cuts to nine varsity teams undermine the rich history of sports at McGill. Dr. James Naismith, BA 1887 and McGill’s first athletics director, invented modern-day basketball. Likewise, the women’s hockey team played a role in hockey’s gender revolution: From 1921 to 1993, the team took part in one of Canada’s first women’s hockey leagues. As well, McGill’s Hockey Club is the oldest in the world, undoubtedly forging the link between Canadian pride and university athletics. Consider also that McGill boasts 143 Olympians, and has brought home 31 medals since 1904. In the National Football League, the university rightfully celebrates Kansas City Chiefs’ guard Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, MDCM ’18, who opted out of the league to serve in a long-term care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic. The great successes spawned at McGill raise questions about their support for the current and future generation of athletes. Athletic performances should not need to garner international acclaim to maintain sufficient funding from the administration.
Overzealous, frenzied sports culture is not embedded into McGill in the same way that it is in many American schools. However, the McGill student body still has a sports-friendly attitude—that fact alone should convince administrators to invest in teams. For spectators and athletes alike, sports are one of the more enjoyable manifestations of McGill’s “work hard, play hard” mindset. Given the continued cuts to athletics, though, this culture has become less prominent.
Sports in all disciplines benefit athletes’ psychological development and mental health, and the university cutting funding is paramount to shattering the years of training athletes put toward their sport. With seemingly arbitrary cuts, McGill sent a clear message to young athletes: No matter how hard you work for your sport, you simply may not make it at McGill. The academic environment the university provides does not suffice for the years of effort and career prospects they have foiled. For the athletes excluded and overlooked in sport, like women, racialized people, and lower-income people, lack of institutional support diminishes the unique talents and dreams they bring to their craft. Artistic swimming, for example, a sport dominated by women, got cut this year despite their recent successes and their team’s advertisement in McGill’s jargon-heavy 2020-2025 Athletics Strategic Plan. Fewer sports opportunities means fewer opportunities for an equitable path forward.
To take action, McGill must be transparent about their decisions, and must go beyond the single email justifying the sports cuts. The $200,000 McGill24 campaign for athletics, the million-dollar gift to the now-cancelled lacrosse team from the Généreux family, and the $3.5-million Kerr Family Women in Sport program are much-needed and appreciated contributions from the McGill community. But there remain significant barriers to entry for different teams—like the baseball team stripped of McGill’s name, despite being self-funded. If the Made by McGill campaign can raise $2-billion, the university, following students’ lead, should reinforce the sports that have “made” and continue to make, McGill.