The Varsity Series brings thousands of students, staff, alumni and members of the local community together to participate, volunteer and spectate at a series of events throughout the year. This year, collaboration and partnership will help Varsity to become the biggest sporting event that the city has to offer.

The Series is overseen by four partners; UWE Bristol, University of Bristol and both students’ unions. The collective aim, in line the strategic priorities of the city and both universities, is for the series to focus on participation and community integration.

The competitive sporting element to Varsity, which takes place in March, will see sports teams from UWE Bristol and Bristol University go head to head over a series of standalone sporting events.

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, excitingly the Varsity Series is collaborating with the Bristol 10k, where all students, staff and alumni alike, will be able to come together to run in a dedicated red and maroon wave within the event; as the two universities come together in our great city. With this in mind; whether you’re a seasoned runner looking for a PB…or you want to set yourself a challenge, there are some great opportunities for you to move your feet, with a the Ready Steady Glow walk and also the 5K in March.

The competitive sporting element to Varsity will be condensed within a few days in March, where the strongest collaborative sporting bids have been selected and will be showcased as standalone events. This year there will be a continued focus on developing the number of intramural & halls Varsity teams within Varsity Day on Wednesday 27 March 2019.

Another exciting collaboration will take place with Tour De Bristol in April, where 100 students from UWE Bristol and Bristol University will come together for the 40k Cycling Sportive, all in aid of St Peter’s Hospice.


If that’s not enough, there will be a curtain closing event to finish the academic year with a bang…think Pimms, think sunshine, think sitting along the harbourside, think your best pair of sunnies, think live music…all topped off with some exciting rowing sprint racing.

In order to deliver the series, we need you…so if you & your club want to volunteer as part of the event team please get in touch.2018-2019


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