A blue is an award of sporting colours earned by athletes at some universities and schools for competition at the highest level. The awarding of blues began at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. They are now awarded at a number of other British universities and at some universities in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The first sporting contest between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge was held on 4 June 1827, when a two-day cricket match at Lord's, organized by Charles Wordsworth, nephew of the poet William, resulted in a draw. There is no record of any university "colours" being worn during the game.
At the first Boat Race in 1829, the Oxford crew was dominated by students of Christ Church, whose college colours were dark blue. They wore white shirts with dark blue stripes, while Cambridge wore white with a pink or scarlet sash. At the second race, in 1836, a light blue ribbon was attached to the front of the Cambridge boat, as it was the colour of Gonville & Caius College. These colours – light blue for Cambridge, and dark blue for Oxford – became the official colours of the two boat clubs, and through the rivalry of the Boat Race, the colours became inextricably linked with the universities and contests between the two.
University of Cambridge
Athletes at the University of Cambridge may be awarded a full blue (or simply a blue), half blue, first team colours or second team colours for competing at the highest level of university sport, which must include being in a varsity match or race against the University of Oxford. A full blue is the highest honour that may be bestowed on a Cambridge athlete, and is a much-coveted and prestigious prize. In general, the full blue standard is approximately that of being successful at a national level of student competition, and the half blue standard is that of being successful at county or regional level.
Once light blue had been chosen as the colour of Cambridge's Boat Club, the other university sport clubs followed suit, though out of courtesy would request permission from the Boat Club before awarding such a "blue". In the 1860s the three senior sports – rowing, cricket and athletics – were awarding blues, and the presidents of each formed an informal "Blues Committee" to oversee such awards. By 1880 a number of smaller clubs involved in varsity matches had successfully requested the right to award "half blues".
The criteria for awarding blues are different for men and women. Awards are made at the discretion of the men's and women's Blues Committees. The Men's Blues Committee is formed from one representative of each of the full blue sports, and the Women's from one representative of each of the full blue and half blue sports. Each committee meets to discuss issues relating to Cambridge sport.
In some sports with full blue status, the varsity match second team is awarded second team colours.
The awarding of a full blue often requires a person to fulfill a number of requirements in the same academic year, particularly in sports with discretionary full blue status. If, for whatever reason, an exceptional athlete is of or above full blue standard but does not fulfill all the requirements for the 'automatic' award of a full blue in any given year, the committee has the authority to grant an extraordinary full blue to that person subject to scrutiny of the particular case. The individual's case must be presented to the Blues Committee in person and must be backed up by substantial evidence and references. The award is unlikely to be made unless the person is of world-class or at least international standard.
Each sport has specific criteria for each award; the general categorisation of men's and women's sports is laid out below, though the status of each sport is subject to frequent review.
Categorisation of men's sports
|Boxing, cricket, hockey, football, golf, lawn tennis, table tennis, rowing, rugby union, squash, gymnastics|
|Full blue (some) / Half blue (rest)|
|Athletics, basketball, cross country running, rugby league, swimming, ice hockey|
|Discretionary full blue|
|Badminton, canoeing, cycling, dancesport, fencing, judo, lightweight rowing, powerlifting, ice hockey, karate, modern pentathlon, orienteering, rifle shooting (small-bore and full-bore), sailing, skiing, water polo, real tennis and motor racing|
|Archery, Australian rules football, Eton and Rugby fives, ice hockey, kickboxing, korfball, lacrosse, mountain biking, pistol shooting, polo, rackets, association croquet, clay pigeon shooting, riding, rifle shooting (small-bore and full-bore), volleyball, windsurfing, yachting, handball and mixed lacrosse|
|Gaelic football, chess, tiddlywinks|
Categorisation of women's sports
|Full blue – whole team|
|Boxing, fencing, football, table tennis, hockey, lacrosse, lawn tennis, lightweight rowing, netball, rowing, rugby union, squash, dance, golf.|
|Full blue (some) / Half blue (rest)|
|Athletics, cheerleading, cricket, modern pentathlon, swimming, volleyball, basketball, taekwondo|
|Discretionary full blue|
|Badminton, cross-country, cycling, dancesport, gymnastics, ice hockey, judo, karate, orienteering, rifle shooting (full-bore), sailing, skiing, volleyball, boxing, real tennis|
|Archery, canoeing, canoe polo, cricket, Eton fives, gliding, ice hockey, korfball, lifesaving, orienteering, association croquet, pistol shooting, polo, riding, rifle shooting (small-bore), taekwondo, trampolining, triathlon, windsurfing, waterpolo, ultimate (if they compete in the Open division), yachting, mixed lacrosse, handball.|
The winner of a blue or half blue is entitled to wear a blues blazer, which is one of the most recognisable and distinctive garments associated with Cambridge University. Full blue blazers are completely coloured Cambridge Blue. Half blue blazers have a number of different designs, depending on the wearer's sport; a typical design is an off-white blazer with Cambridge blue lapels and trimmings. There is a variety of other blue and half blue paraphernalia, including scarves, ties, pullovers, bow ties, caps and squares.
Men holding blues, half blues or second team colours in a Full blue sport are eligible to join the Hawks' Club. Women holding any of these awards are eligible to join The Ospreys, which was founded in 1985. In 2019, the Hawks and Ospreys finalized an agreement to share usage of the Hawks' Clubhouse.
University of Oxford
At the University of Oxford, the committees for awarding blues and half blues work on much the same principles as the Cambridge committees. The principal difference between the two men's committees is that, at Oxford, all captains, regardless of their status as full, discretionary, or half blue must attend meetings of the committee. Until recently, the voting was broken up according to blues status with full blue captains being allowed to vote on all matters while all the other captains could only vote on matters directly relating to half blue sports. In Michaelmas Term 2006, the committee finally allowed discretionary full blue captains the right to vote on matters directly relating to discretionary full blue sports.
The committees are administered by an elected president, secretary and treasurer who serve one year. Unlike at Cambridge, where the president of Cambridge University Boat Club holds the position, at Oxford, any captain can be elected president, regardless of sport or status.
The role of the president is to call and serve as chair of any meeting of the committee, of which there are normally three per year (six for the women). They also serve as the representative of the committee and sit on the University Sports Strategy Committee and the Executive Committee of the Sports Federation. Both Presidents along with the Director of Sport represent Oxford at any meetings of a Joint Blues Committee held with Cambridge. The purpose of the Joint Blues Committee is to discuss issues of eligibility for the varsity match and to settle any disputes between the sporting communities of the two universities.
The colour of an Oxford full blue blazer is dark blue. The Oxford half blue blazer can be one of two designs. Either it is composed of thick vertical stripes of dark blue and off-white, as in the adjacent image, or it can be dark blue, as the full blue blazer, with two white stripes above the club badge on the left breast.
The club associated with the Oxford blue is Vincent’s Club, although its membership is not restricted to blues, and there are wider criteria for election. Atalantas is a club for sportswomen at Oxford, and also is not restricted to blues.
Other British universities
A number of other British universities, particularly in Scotland, award blues as their colours. These include Aberdeen, Bath, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, Liverpool, Robert Gordon, St Andrews and Stirling.
'Blues' in Australia
University of Adelaide
The Adelaide University Sports Association at the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, South Australia awards a blue and a half blue for outstanding sporting achievement, and a club letters for both sporting achievement and service.
La Trobe University
La Trobe University has awarded blues and half blues since its early years, with the first blues being awarded in 1968. The annual Blues and Sports Awards Night recognises the elite sports men and women who have represented La Trobe via the university's clubs, intervarsity sporting competitions and the World University games. There are also awards for Outstanding Service which recognise the outstanding service to sports clubs by members of the La Trobe Community.
University of Melbourne
The Melbourne University Sports Association (originally known as the 'Sports Union') awards blues and half blues at the University of Melbourne, for outstanding performance in inter-university events (primarily through the Australian University Games and Australian University Championships). A 'distinguished service award' may be made (including to non-students) for outstanding service to a sporting club (or clubs), the Sports Association, and/or sport at the university generally.
Blues were first awarded in 1904, as one of the first items of business of the newly formed Sports Union, with retrospective awards made back as early as 1870. Initially, awards were made automatically to all participants in an intervarsity contest, with the level (full or half blue) dependent on the sport. In 1911, this model was replaced with the formation of a 'Blues Advisory Board' to determine the awards based on an individual's performance. The BAB continues to serve this role today.
University of Queensland
Blues and half-blues have been awarded at the University of Queensland since 1912. Blues have been awarded for outstanding performances in club fixtures, representative games, and inter-university competitions as well as for international representation whilst studying at the University. The University of Queensland blue is the highest sporting accolade an athlete can receive from the university. In recent years, UQ Sport through its Blues Advisory Committee, has developed a selection method and criteria to ensure that blues and half blues at the university are of the highest standard. Each year these awards are presented at the UQ Sport Blues Awards Dinner.
'Blues' in New Zealand
Since 1919 the New Zealand Universities Blue has been awarded to NZ University students who have achieved excellence both on and off the field of play. Currently University Sport New Zealand is responsible for presenting this award.
- Hawks' Club – social club for men holding a Cambridge full blue, Half blue or second team colours
- Rugby League Varsity Match – annual rugby league match between Oxford and Cambridge
- The Boat Race
- The Women's Boat Race
- The Colours Match – annual rugby union match between University College Dublin and Trinity College, Dublin
- The University Golf Match – annual golf match between Oxford and Cambridge
- The University Match – annual cricket match between Oxford and Cambridge
- The Varsity Game – annual basketball match between Oxford and Cambridge
- The Varsity Match – annual rugby union match between Oxford and Cambridge
- The Varsity Polo Match – annual polo match between Oxford and Cambridge
- The Varsity Match (hockey) - annual hockey match between Oxford and Cambridge
- Varsity letter – similar award granted by schools in the United States
- Vincent's Club – social club for men consisting of those of appropriate character at the University of Oxford. Many are sportsmen.
- Sporting colours
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- "AWARDS". The Adelaide University Sports Association. Archived from the original on 9 April 2013. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- University, La Trobe. "Life Members and Honour Board". www.latrobe.edu.au. Archived from the original on 22 April 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
- Senyard, June E. (2004). The Ties That Bind: A History of Sport at the University of Melbourne. Petersham, NSW: Walla Walla Press.
- "UQ BLUES AWARDS". University of Queensland. Archived from the original on 22 October 2015.
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- Cambridge University
- Blues Committees
- Cambridge University Rugby Football Club
- A history of the Cambridge Blue
- Cambridge University Hawks' Club website
- The Ospreys website (the female equivalent of the Hawks' Club)
- Cambridge University Rugby League Football Club site
- Oxford University
- Oxford University Sport
- Oxford University Sports Federation Blues Website
- Oxford University Squash Racquet's Club
- Oxford University Association Football Club: The Varsity match
- Oxford University Vincent's Club website
- The Atalantas website (the female equivalent of the Vincent's Club) Archived 19 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- Oxford University Rugby League Football Club site
- Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club (OUABC)
- Other universities