10.04.2008 – Graham Croker

After reading out an extraordinary list of individual and team performances by Sydney University athletes during 2007, the President of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, Bruce Ross, told the recent annual Sports Award dinner gathering in the Great Hall that the departing SUS Executive Director, Greg Harris, was the catalyst for much of the success.

“When Greg was appointed as Director in 1992, the Sports Union and its member clubs were dispirited and directionless and living on past glories,” Mr Ross told the Great Hall gathering last week.

“During the 16 years of his tenure, Greg was the public face of the Sports Union while it reinvented itself.”

“Our infrastructure which was dilapidated and run down was modernised and expanded. Our clubs were given the support that has enabled them to achieve pre-eminence to the extent that a number of them are recognised as world-class.”

Mr Ross said the Sports Union provided eight sports scholarship in 1992 – now there are 300.

“In 1992 our teams merely made up the numbers in the competitions they were involved in,” he said. “Now they tend to dominate those competitions.”

“Other clubs used to kick us out because we were uncompetitive – now they despise us because we’re too competitive.

“In 1992 we had no professional coaches and no strength and conditioning coaches. Now we have staff of equivalent standard to the professional franchise and institutes of sport.”

Mr Ross said Greg Harris played a central role in the resurgence. “He was the driving force not just for Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, but also for Australian University Sport in the fight against the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism,” he said.

“That legislation was very largely responsible for him leaving us. He became increasingly concerned about the security of our funding and what he perceived as a loss of operational autonomy.”

“Sport at Sydney University will not be the same without Greg, but he did not leave a void – we were able to find very capable replacements from his own staff. Robert Smithies, our new Executive Director, and his deputy, Dr Michelle Nancarrow, have learned from working under Greg and are well-equipped to provide leadership to our organisation.”

Mr Ross also used the occasion to thank another supporter of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness who will be leaving the institution later this year.

“I want to also pay tribute to another transformational leader, our Vice-Chancellor Gavin Brown,” Mr Ross said. “During his tenure the University of Sydney has become recognised as truly world-class.”

“This venerable institution is exhibiting remarkable vigour not just in scholarship and research, but also in expanding its infrastructure. At any one time recently it seems that half of the campus is blocked off by building works Gavin will obviously leave behind a very rich legacy when he retires later this year.”

Mr Ross said Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness now has the opportunity for unprecedented growth and achievement as a result of the partnership relationship it has with the University.

“The University recently committed to provide us with very substantial expansion of our infrastructure and has been extraordinarily generous in terms of recurrent funding,” he said.

“We acknowledge the support and encouragement given to us by the Deputy Vice-Chancellors Bob Kotic and Andrew Coats. We have also received considerable hands-on assistance from Paul Slater and Deborrah Lambourne, who continues to work very closely with us relating to enhancing the student experience.”

“Ultimately the measure of our success is not how many premierships we accumulate or how many world champions we produce, but rather the extent to which our athletes, whether super stars or just enthusiastic participants, develop a lifelong identification with, and love for, their University.”