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Varsity: the biggest university sporting event

Week 35

6 May 2024

So it may not be quite as big as the Olympics or World Cup, but Varsity is the biggest event in the university sporting calendar. This week we’ll give you a quick guide on the history of Varsity and what to expect.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

It’s coming up to that time of the year when the days are getting longer, the weather is getting better, and your chosen university will be gearing up for the biggest sporting event in the university calendar: Varsity.

You will hear people talking about Varsity when you come on to campus as it is one of the biggest days in the university calendar, so we’re here to give you the low down before you get started at uni.

So firstly, what is Varsity?

Varsity is probably both the biggest sporting and social event in the university calendar. It’s a sports competition between two rival universities in which they’ll compete in various events to become overall Varsity Champion! Winning the coveted title, trophy and, more importantly, bragging rights.

Rival universities are normally based on geographical location, so you'll normally compete against the university just down the road. Each year the universities will take it in turn hosting the event, or will play on neutral ground.

How did it all start?

Depending on which university you speak to, some say Varsity began with the rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford with a cricket match in 1827. Others say it began with St Andrews and Edinburgh with a rugby match first held in the 1860s. Either way, these sporting competitions paved the way for other universities to compete once a year in a variety of sports, and this annual event will be going on for years!

What’s the most famous Varsity match?

The most famous is probably the Cambridge vs Oxford boat race. You may have seen it on the telly as it’s the only publicly televised university Varsity match in the UK. However, if your university has a student-led TV channel they’ll normally live stream yours. So if you can't make it, you can still watch it.

What kind of sport is it?

Varsity sports matches could be a variety of things. From Ultimate Frisbee to darts, rugby, and even ice hockey. The general rule is, if both universities have enough players to compete in two opposing teams, the sport can be played in Varsity.

How can I get involved?

If you’re not competing, you can go and support! You can wear t-shirts, make banners and chant along with your university. Many universities will put on some transport to take you to and from the game if it’s held on your rival team’s campus. So make sure you go along and get behind your team!

If playing is more your style, your team will select a Varsity team to go and compete, so make sure you join a sports team when you arrive. Check out our 52 Things clubs and societies.

What happens at Solent?

Here at Solent, we compete against our local sporting rivals over at Bournemouth University. Solent University used to compete with our neighbours Southampton University down the road, (but our alumni will tell you that we kept beating them every time so now they play Portsmouth University and we play Bournemouth – we're sure Southampton University will say the opposite!).

Here are some pictures from the event to give you a feel for what to expect at Varsity:

Tasks for this week:

  • Check out who your university will be competing against in Varsity.
  • See if there are any sports teams you may want to get involved in, you may even get to play!