A rivalry for the ages: Sports at Oxford and Cambridge

While Oxford and Cambridge are best known for top-tier academics, the two universities also feature vibrant sporting traditions. From ancient practices to modern-day favourites, we take a look at the highlights of student sports life at Oxbridge.


Eden Grosz

7/19/20236 min read

Image: A rower dressed in bright university colours concentrates hard.

Picking a university to study at comes down to several factors, many of which have to do with the lifestyle that each campus can offer. Sports are an integral part of campus culture and can bring a sense of community, friendship, and belonging amongst athletes and students alike. Having insight into which colleges offer the atmosphere you are looking for may help you make that decision.

Does Oxford have a sports team?

While Oxford and Cambridge Universities are renowned worldwide for their academic prowess and the high level to which they hold their students, there are several things that make up the full college experience, many of which take place outside the lecture halls and dormitories. One of the classic university experiences that many students enjoy both participating in and watching is university sports. Beyond intellectual pursuits, both Oxford and Cambridge boast vibrant sports cultures, offering students a wide array of popular sports and games to participate in. From ancient traditions to modern-day favourites, the sporting landscapes at both Universities are broad enough to cater to every student.

Does Cambridge have a sports team?

Cambridge has sports teams to cater to just about every interest and demographic, from professional players to newbies and those just wanting to stretch their legs. Cambridge and Oxford sports teams often compete against each other and there are a number of famous competitions between the two that make international headlines. Both universities enjoy similar sports, but none seem to bring the universities together like proper competition.

Oxford vs Cambridge Sports

Image: Brightly-dressed rowers push hard to win their race.

Oxbridge rowing attracts international attention

Perhaps the most well-respected sport at Oxbridge is rowing. The sport holds a special place in both universities’ histories and traditions. The annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, held on the River Thames, is an iconic event that attracts national and even international attention. With dedicated rowing clubs and specialised training facilities, aspiring rowers have ample opportunities to develop their skills and represent their college on the water. Student involvement in this race is high, with each college having several traditions surrounding the prestigious event.

What is The Roar?

Almost every college within Oxford and Cambridge has its own boat club, and they often have their own unique traditions surrounding the Boat Race. These traditions can range from pre-race breakfasts and dinners to special ritualistic cheers performed by the college boat club members. These activities foster a sense of camaraderie and pride within the individual colleges. One of the more inclusive traditions is known as "The Roar." As the race begins, students from both universities gather along the banks of the River Thames, cheering and supporting their own team. This tradition involves loud chants, cheers, and encouragement for the rowers. It creates an electric atmosphere and showcases the passionate support of the students.

Image: A rugby player throws himself onto the ground to score a try. Source: WWOS

What is rugby?

Rugby is a sport that is deeply ingrained in the heritage of both Cambridge and Oxford, as it is traditionally played by students from prestigious backgrounds. The name comes from the town of Rugby, in the South of England, where the sport was invented some 200 years ago. The town has long been a haven for children of well-to-do families thanks to Rugby School, an elite public school founded in 1567.

The universities both field several men's and women's rugby teams that compete in various leagues and tournaments. One of the best sporting events of the year is the Varsity Match. It is a fiercely contested match between the men's and women's teams from both universities, held at Twickenham Stadium, the home of English rugby. The Varsity Match draws a large crowd and receives extensive media coverage, showcasing the talent and passion of the players. Students at each university may dress up in their colours, wave flags or banners, or even attend pre- and post-match gatherings before either attending the game or watching from their common rooms or other viewing areas. Cambridge even has what is known as "Camouflage Day," where students, alumni, and supporters wear a combination of light blue and dark blue clothing, representing the Cambridge and Oxford colours respectively. The aim is to create a visually striking display of solidarity and support for the Cambridge team.

Image: Two fencers battle furiously with their foils (swords) in a professional competition. Source: WSJ

What is fencing?

Fencing is a sport that descends from sword-fighting practice that youths used to prepare themselves for battle during the renaissance and medieval eras. However, today's fencing is much more safe, with rounded tips and protective masks used to prevent injury. It's a thoroughly-enjoyed sport that can be picked up quite quickly by students looking to try something new (and thoroughly Cambridge!)

Fencing also has a more prominent presence at Cambridge compared to Oxford. The university boasts a strong fencing club that offers training, coaching, and competitive opportunities for students interested in the sport.

What sports can I play at Oxford?

It's worth noting that while these sports may have a stronger presence at one university, that doesn't mean they are completely absent at the other. Both Oxford and Cambridge provide a wide range of sports and activities for students, and there may be individuals or smaller groups within each university who participate in less mainstream or niche sports.

What sports are popular at Cambridge?

Both Oxford and Cambridge have their own unique on-campus sporting traditions and events that celebrate the competitive spirit, teamwork, and excellence in sports. These traditions form an integral part of the universities' identities, fostering a sense of pride and camaraderie among students, alumni, and sports enthusiasts associated with these prestigious institutions.

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If you'd like to learn more about how we can help you, just send a quick email to hello@oxbridgefasttrack.com to get in touch!

Image: A footballer reaches for a ball in mid-air as his opponents move in to tackle him.

Oxbridge competition extends to almost every sport

Many other sports are shared by the universities, such as football, cricket, and even athletics, also known as track and field. Each of these sports also has an important rivalry-fueling match that has Oxford and Cambridge taking the field opposite one another, inviting students, staff, and alumni to watch, cheer, and create traditions surrounding each of these competitive events.

Traditional sports at Oxbridge

While there is considerable overlap in the popular sports enjoyed at both Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the student traditions that surround them, there are a few sports that have a stronger presence at one university compared to the other.

Image: An athlete lunges for a ball on a royal tennis court. Source: Royal Melbourne Tennis Club

What is Royal Tennis?

Cambridge is known to have what is known as a Real Tennis court on campus, giving the sport, also known as "royal tennis" or "court tennis," a dedicated following among some of its students and alumni. Royal Tennis is a sport played on an indoor court with unique rules and equipment. Oxford does not have a real tennis court, so the sport is not as prevalent there.