A blue, a first and a spouse – the three unobtainable pillars of the Cambridge experience, chased after in vain and rarely achieved, it’s almost universally recognised within Cambridge that this unholy trinity is largely a myth.
Supposedly these attributes indicate deep and multi-faceted success in all aspects of Cambridge life, a level of excellence that even the greatest Cantabs can only dream of. Regardless, it seems generally accepted that such superficial measures of success are wildly inappropriate, failing to gain a first does not mean one is not intelligent and given the pool from which we choose, failing to find a spouse may actually be for the best. But what can be said for the third member of our triad? Is a blue really the ultimate peak of Cambridge sport or have we unnecessarily attached importance to something that is really nothing more than another Cambridge tradition?
Having participated in sport for most of my life before arriving in Cambridge, the all -important Blue was definitely something I was aware of before even setting foot in college. For the first few weeks of Michaelmas it felt as though those light blue blazers were somewhat ubiquitous and almost every other person was asking me if I already had a Blue or when I was likely to get one. I think perhaps the pressure placed on me from the outset meant that I became fixated on obtaining a blue rather than enjoying the prestige that comes from simply representing Cambridge in a sport. In training when I was struggling to finish that last 300m rep I would, and still do picture myself wearing that famous blazer in a bid to find the strength to carry on. Incredibly significant competitions such as Fresher’s Varsity, my very first time representing Cambridge, became marred by my blinkered attempts to meet the required standard and a part of me can’t help thinking I should have taken the time to simply soak up the atmosphere and enjoy my first encounter with O*ford. After all I will never have the opportunity to compete in a fresher’s varsity match again and so the focus should have been to enjoy the experience.
Ultimately, pursuing a sport at university should be for a love of competition and for oneself not the benefit of others. I worry that the current status and mystique surrounding blues means that many undertake university sports for the wrong reasons as a result. I have had freshers ask me “what is the easiest way to get a blue?” which genuinely saddens me because our entire university sporting system has been skewed towards something that in many ways is a completely arbitrary way of measuring success. Perhaps this is more to do with the elitist position that we give to our athletes in Cambridge, but it seems as though quite often the sport is seen as means to obtaining a blue rather than an end in itself which is a great shame. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy the privileges of playing a sport in Cambridge such as queue-jump for clubs and wearing stash to lectures, but if all that were to disappear I would still continue to run because quite frankly, it is a part of my identity. I would hope that the majority of student athletes feel the same, but there is a definite need to re-evaluate our priorities if people are getting involved in sport simply to access these privileges.
Aside from the additional pressure placed on athletes by the system of blues, I would also question whether or not they are an appropriate measure of sporting success. Should we really be basing our judgements on how good an athlete someone is on an award which, for competitors in many sports, is actually impossible to receive? For example, I have a friend who is on the cusp of achieving national representation in climbing and yet would never receive the same recognition as say a blues rugby player, despite being at a far higher level in his own sport. Awarding blues status to only to certain sports gives the impression that some sports are better than others even though such distinctions are almost always biased. In actual fact the current “full blue” sports in Cambridge are just a remnant of the first three sports – rowing, cricket and athletics, that began awarding Blues in the 1860s, so actually these so called ‘original full blue sports’, which now make up the men’s and women’s blues committees, are only in their position because of their age – classic Cambridge! Having been to a blues committee meeting myself, I couldn’t help feeling underqualified to vote on whether or not someone else should receive an extraordinary blue. What gave me the right to comment on how good another person was at Judo when I have absolutely no experience in the sport? This is precisely why I feel that the ad hoc system of awarding Blues is an entirely unreliable method of judging sporting attainment. That is not to say that those who hold blues are undeserving, but simply that there may be many more deserving athletes who are wrongly overlooked by the system.
Furthermore, the discrepancy between Blues standards in different sports means that comparisons between sports become inaccurate too. For example, in order to gain a blue in Karate one has to navigate a series of difficult criteria including medalling at BUCS or nationals whereas in women’s lacrosse simply playing for the first team in Varsity will do. Now it is true that due to the volume of competitors, some sports are more competitive than others, especially at university, but surely if we are going to continue rewarding sporting prowess we should have a standardised and up to date system rather than relying on blues standards that, in some cases, were set decades ago.
In essence, I feel that the presence of Blues means that even the sporting realm cannot escape the incessant compulsion to quantify success in Cambridge. As if class lists and scholars prizes are not enough, we have found yet another way to rank and judge people. Despite this however, the Blue was something that motivated and pushed me through training last year and so I certainly would not advocate for their entire abolition but rather, like many Cambridge institutions, the Blues system needs urgent review and modernisation.