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Sports President takes a bow

by Graham Croker | September 22, 2017
Sports President takes a bow

The President of Sydney University Sport and Fitness, Bruce Ross, recently retired after a record 26 years in the role and a plethora of achievements under his belt.

Many of those achievements were mentioned by guest speakers at a recent function in Mr Ross’s honour at the new TAG Family Foundation Grandstand at Sydney University Football Ground.

Speakers included Karen Dalton, General Manager of Brydens Sydney Uni Flames WNBL side; Mr Ross’s SUSF successor James Flynn; Greg Harris, former Executive Director of SUSF; Rob Smithies, Executive Director of SUSF; and Dr Michael Spence, University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor.

Master of ceremonies Rodney Tubbs opened proceedings with the line: “Some of you will know that during the 100 years between 1890 and 1990 there had been 38 presidents of Sport at Sydney University. Then along came Bruce Ross… for the next 26 years.”

He then provided a precis of events and achievements Mr Ross was involved in during his reign. They included:

The establishment of a sporting scholarship scheme and subsequent Elite Athlete Program;

The mid-1990s prevention of Sydney University’s cricket and rugby clubs being relegated to subdistrict status;

The 2003 amalgamation of the men’s and women’s sports administration bodies and the emergence of a new era of sporting domination by Sydney University female athletes and women’s teams;

The provision of professional support services for high performance clubs and the development of links with outside sporting organisations;

The creation of school holiday sports camps and physical education services for schools; and

A program of recent sporting infrastructure developments.

“It is impossible to conceive that this voluntary role could have been served with more distinction,” Mr Tubbs said. “In terms of major premierships won and numbers of Australian representatives, Bruce presided over the truly golden era of sport at Australia’s premier university.”

Mr Harris, who started his 16-year terms as CEO of SUSF at the same time Mr Ross took up the presidency, said one of the biggest hurdles a CEO faces is having the right president.

“A good organisation begins with sound corporate governance and the right values and culture,” he said. “The president is essential to this philosophy. Bruce Ross brought that to sport at this university – and for a long period.

“History is the window to the future and when Bruce and I first started here the Rugby Club and others would do a lap of honour if they so much as won the toss, let alone a game. You were never going to be successful if you were not smarter that the next bloke or woman. We were lucky that there was some yin and yang; me brash and have a go; Bruce solid and considered.”

Mr Harris said during Mr Ross’s tenure he had negotiated with four vice-chancellors and four chancellors and the engagement of sporting alumni to govern and manage the affairs of many sporting clubs.

“A brief run through what has occurred during Bruce’s tenure is a wonderful testimony to the achievements to which many have contributed,” he said. “And no doubt Bruce is the first to share the acknowledgement around and to agree that success it the product of partnerships.”

Mr Harris also urged the Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor to name a facility in Mr Ross’s honour for his contribution to sport and the support and development of young athletes on the campus.

During his speech at the function, Vice-Chancellor Spence said the University had already taken the decision to name the Boardroom in the new Grandstand Building ‘The Bruce Ross Meeting Room’.

Mr Harris’s successor as CEO of SUSF, Rob Smithies, said measuring a quarter of a century of service is almost impossible. “One way is by the accolades he’s received,” he said.

“Officially, Bruce is a Honorary Fellow of the University of Sydney Senate; the longest serving President of the Men’s Sports Union and the longest serving President of SUSF; a Life Member of SUSF; and a University Gold.”

Mr Smithies said another way to gauge the Ross years is to measure how far university clubs have come during his time as President – the multiple titles won in rugby, cricket, soccer, water polo, AFL, athletics, netball, rowing and more. “Almost every club at SUSF has had the most successful year in their history some time during Bruce’s tenure,” he said.

“You could measure the growth in high performance sport – the growth in the number of Olympians and Australian representatives, and the expansion of the Elite Athlete Program from one to almost 400.

“You could measure it by the massive growth in participation sport, the huge advances in women’s sport since the 2003 amalgamation with the Women’s Sports Association. The amalgamation itself was an incredible step forward for sport and fitness at this University, and Bruce was heavily involved in that together with Greg Harris, Denise Wee and Ann Mitchell.

“Sydney Uni has won almost half of the titles contested at the Australian University Games which started in 1993.

“Then there are the huge sums of money raised philanthropically – over $7 million in the past four years, and something like $9 million during Bruce’s time.  When we started raising funds for the Sports & Aquatic Centre extension in 2013 Bruce was the first donor and remains the largest individual donor to that project.”

Mr Smithies said there have also been the enormous advances in sports infrastructure – the Sports & Aquatic Centre extension parts 1 and 2; the TAG Family Foundation Grandstand, the Thyne Reid Boathouse and the Bruce Pryor Hockey Turf – $44 million worth of construction during his presidency.

“Much of this came about as a result of SUSF pivoting its relationship with the University to one of partnership and collaboration and working with them to achieve results – it’s been a terrific partnership and has yielded so much for the students of the University,” he said.

“None of these achievements are Bruce’s alone, and he would be the first to admit that, but none of them would have happened without Bruce’s influence and impact, one way or another. 

“A quote I learnt from Bruce is ‘Don’t do things for people expecting gratitude’. This explains Bruce’s tireless attitude of service towards people, keep investing in them and don’t expect anything in return. I’ve seen this first-hand – Bruce has given so much of his time to people, he’s loaned them money that was never repaid, he’s donated large sums of his own money, he’s comforted people, and he’s arranged jobs for people who never said ‘thank you’ – time and again he’s given of himself and not expected anything in return. 

Executive Director of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, Rob Smithies, and Bruce Ross. 

“I think one of his biggest contributions was that the organisation was there for all clubs to prosper and succeed, and the feuds between our clubs have mostly faded as the rising tide has lifted all boats.  SUSF is at its strongest when our clubs work together and Bruce brought peace between the clubs and peace between the clubs and SUSF.

“It’s almost impossible to find anything where Bruce has spoken about himself, but I found one reflective quote in my research.  In one of the annual reports, Bruce writes: ‘I would like to thank the members of the Sports Union for the opportunity to have been involved in the most exciting and enjoyable enterprise of my life’. 

“It wasn’t Bruce big-noting himself – it was Bruce saying ‘thank you’ for the opportunity to serve everyone and to have given back so much.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that he wrote that last year – it was written in 2002, less than half-way through his term as President. 

“However, Bruce’s most repeated and famous quote is to say ‘our story is just beginning’. It’s Bruce’s way of doing what he does best – deflecting attention away from himself and onto SUSF’s future.  If our story is just beginning then his role is not large, and it’s the bright future that will claim the credit.

“Well tonight Bruce I think I’ll be bold and say that maybe our story has at least reached the end of the first chapter, and it’s a chapter that heavily features your time, your optimism, your vision and your legacy.  You dared to dream that SUSF could make a difference in people’s lives and it has. Your legacy will live on in many ways, but most of all in the hearts and minds of the thousands of people who have been positively affected by your contribution. 

“And for that, on behalf of SUSF, on behalf of everyone here tonight, on behalf of our Clubs, donors, our stakeholders, our staff and our student-athletes, I want to say ‘thank you’. Thanks for your drive, your ambition, your enthusiasm and your time.  Our story may well be just beginning but you’re a huge part of it.”

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