Sporting pursuits at the University of Oxford have been built into its more modern culture and image from the 18th century onwards, from the recreational pursuits of an aristocratic elite to the aspirations of competitive amateurs in the 19th century and well into the 20th. The college system fostered intra-university rivalries, some the direct continuation of public school encounters, and the rivalry on the river and the athletics track fostered inter-university rivalry with the University of Cambridge. The professionalization and commercialization of sports, particularly in the last quarter of the 20th century, meant that the university base for amateur excellence was increasingly adrift from the circumstances and conditions conducive to the production of top-level sporting performance. With the increase in Britain of lottery funding for athletes targeting Olympic achievements, however, university students and graduates have been able to aspire again to the highest level of achievement, particularly in sports within the university tradition such as rowing, or all-round sports such as the modern pentathlon. The University of Oxford's student sports federation supports a wide range of activities, and some sports such as rowing, rugby, and men's cricket benefit from considerable external sponsorship; this can be fragile though, as the collapse of the rugby club sponsor Lehman Brothers demonstrated during the economic crisis of 2008. Those high-profile sports have also been the focus of some controversy in relation to student recruitment, with specialist sport competitors with established international (and professional) backgrounds accepted on to postgraduate courses of dubious academic standing. See also blues, Oxford and Cambridge; Cambridge University, sport at; four-minute mile; lawn tennis; Oxford-Cambridge boat race.
Subjects: Sport and Leisure.