About Varsity

Each year over 1,500 students from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the University of Bristol, go head to head over a series of sporting events organised by the Students’ Unions of both Universities.

These students compete in their chosen sport against their closest rivals whilst raising money for local charities. In the last five years the event has raised in excess of £50,000 for local charities & each Students’ Union.

Varsity promotes what both universities can offer to the city of Bristol, in the name of fun, participation and friendship.


The First Year

Bristol first challenged UWE to a boat race in the Bristol Docks.

One member of the crowd lining the dockside that day was Billy Cotton. He was so impressed he approached the two Students’ Unions about staging a Rugby Union fixture for Oxfam. A year later saw the inaugural Varsity Rugby Match at the Memorial Stadium.


Inaugural Football Varsity

This event has had a number of homes including Ashton Gate and more recently the Memorial Stadium.

Varsity Day

Birth of Varsity Day

Varsity Day, the multi-event climax of the series, was born in 2003 and hosted in various venues including Coombe Dingle, various meeting rooms and a city centre Laser Quest! This was the first time so many participants from each University could compete against one another on the same day, with 19 sports and societies competing.



The series expanded, adding American Football and Ice Hockey. The introduction of the American Football event gave rise to two new rival teams - UWE Bullets and Bristol Barracuda - that previously had to train together as a single squad.


Losing Ice Hockey

Sadly the series had to say goodbye to the Ice Hockey event, and Bristol Lions Ice Hockey Club, when Bristol’s only Ice Rink closed. On the upside, a sell-out Fight Night was added to the Varsity calendar in 2012


Addition of Polo


Addition of Varsity 10k

The 10k was the series’ first ever mass participation event, giving 450 people - staff and students from both sides - the chance to be involved in Varsity and run a course around the iconic Bristol Harbourside.


addition of Varsity cycling

Two decades after its inception the Varsity Series includes over 1,500 athletes in over 90 teams participating in over 35 sports and activities. It is one of the biggest multi-sporting events in the South West.

Its schedule of events continues to evolve to give new groups and sports the opportunity to build a rivalry in their city and live the Varsity values.

This year adds the inaugural Varsity Cycling sportive another mass participation event where up to 200 student and staff will be able to represent their University in Varsity competition, irrespective of ability.


European City of Sport

In the year where Bristol was recognised as the European City of Sport, the Varsity Series brought a festival of elite competition for everyone in the city to enjoy. It was also the first run in association with Bristol-headquartered Unite Students, the UK’s largest student accommodation provider, who were the main sponsor of the event.



Varsity Now

This year’s Varsity Series will see the return of old showpieces; The Boat Race, Netball and Basketball; alongside newer additions like Varsity Week, which will include a range of exciting events, such as Windsurf, Friday Night Lights, and Cheer, Dance & Pole. 

The central Varsity Day will see over 1,000 athletes competing in 27 sports from Athletics to Ultimate Frisbee - in what is unquestionably the South West’s biggest one day multi-sport event.

Throughout the year, there will also be a number of participation events for the public to get involved with, such as the gory Zombie Trail run and the energetic Mass Zumba. 2018


Varsity Boat Race

Since its inaugural race in 1995 the rowing event has taken on a prestige of its own, with UWE and Bristol two of the biggest rowing Universities in the country.

In the early years the event would not have been possible without the passion, drive and expertise of a select few, but one individual in particular. That individual, Chris Della-Porta, was both a UWE alumnus and a member of University of Bristol sports department staff. Chris coordinated the boat race for nearly a decade from the event’s inception.

The event is held in the historical Bristol Docks, starting near the Pump House in Hotwells and finishing at Canon's Wharf Amphitheatre in the centre of Bristol, and the event is recognised as the flagship of the series of sporting challenges over the academic year.

Over the years the event has changed format. Between 1997-2002 and again in 2006 the University of Bath, Exeter and UCL, Cardiff, Swansea, Southampton, Warwick and Birmingham joined in. 2012 saw the events biggest development to date by moving the hosting of the event to the southside of the harbourside providing clearer views of the course for the spectators.

2002 and 2003 saw the appearance of arguably the events most famous son, Pete Reed MBE. In 2002 Pete rowed in UWE’s novice and senior boat in the 6 seat having only picked up rowing a couple of months before. Pete went on to row in the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race in 2005 and become double Olympic Champion for Great Britain in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics in the Men’s coxless four. Will it be third time lucky for Pete in Rio 2016?

Varsity Rugby

In the six years that Varsity Rugby match was co-ordinated by Oxfam from its inception in 1996-2002, the event raised over £50,000.

In 2003 the event was co-ordinated in its entirety by both Students’ Unions for the first time with one of the largest Varsity attendances to date with over 4,500 spectators from both universities and the local community. The event has always been held at the Memorial Stadium with the exception of one year where it was held at Clifton RFC in 2001 and the one year that the event was postponed due to inclement weather.

Varsity Rugby boasts some of Rugby Union’s international greats:

  • Simon Shaw MBE [UWE] - England & GB Lions 2003 World Cup Winner
  • Kyran Bracken MBE [Bristol & UWE] - England 2003 World Cup Winner
  • Josh Lewsey MBE [Bristol] - England & GB Lions 2003 World Cup Winner
  • Hugo Southwell [UWE] - Scotland
  • Alex King [Bristol] - England
  • Marco Stanojevic [UWE] - Italy
  • Frasier Waters [Bristol] - England
  • Sophie Hemming [Bristol] - England 2014 World Cup Winner
  • James Cordy-Redden [UWE] - England 7’s
Two Universities, One City