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UBC review of sports funding sparks ‘wholly inappropriate’ attacks, president says

Louise Cowin, UBC vice-president of students, is the university executive overseeing a review on the future of UBC's varsity sports teams, and is pictured Nov. 3, 2013. The university’s president says the review has sparked some ‘wholly inappropriate’ attacks.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

The University of British Columbia's efforts to boost varsity teams that are winning to new levels and downgrade those that don't measure up has sparked some "wholly inappropriate" attacks, the university's president said, but he made an effort to mollify alumnists' concerns.

At a news conference Tuesday, Stephen Toope took aim at some of the misinformation surrounding the review and attacks against the two women leading it. Although he did not use the word sexist, he said he was "not sure if [the attacks] would have happened if there had been a different cast of characters." In any case, he said UBC will add two alumni positions to the review team.

The university is reviewing the way it funds varsity sports and has said 29 teams are too many. The review has proved somewhat controversial, with some alumni and media alike suggesting the fix is in and traditional programs such as hockey or football will lose their varsity designation.

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Mr. Toope thanked alumni Tuesday for their tireless investments in the varsity program. He said the announcement on who fills the new advisory positions will be made "as quickly as possible" and reaffirmed the university needs to act now to strengthen its sporting future.

"The primary goal of the sports review is to sharpen the focus on high-performance excellence, to expand and enhance opportunities for a greater number of UBC students to participate in competitive sports at different levels," he told reporters.

"There has been considerable growth in the number of teams in our varsity sports program over many years, but without any long-term strategy."

Mr. Toope said the university will try to expedite the process so teams that will remain varsity are informed late this year or early next, where possible. Teams that are no longer varsity will be placed in a new competitive club division, where they will receive less support.

Mr. Toope stressed the varsity budget is not being cut. But the university wants to use its funds in a more effective way on fewer teams, he said, instead of spreading itself too thin.

Derek Swain, an alumnus who was at the news conference sporting his old UBC sweater, told reporters he was disappointed with what he heard and said the process has been "wrong-footed" since the start.

"It's the uncertainty. We just don't know what teams are going to be cut. And I don't see any justification for cutting any of them," he said. "There could have been a quiet review done much earlier that would have simply said we need to find some more money to support certain teams, what can we do?"

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The review is being led by Louise Cowin, vice-president of students at UBC, and Ashley Howard, the athletic program's managing director. Their ability to lead such a review has been called into question by some media.

When asked if those portrayals have been sexist in nature, Mr. Toope offered a lengthy response. He closed: "I hope it stops. I will say that, as a model for what we hope our students will learn in terms of sportsmanship and fair play, I have not been impressed by some of what we've seen in the wider community."

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