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Sport’s drinking culture: initiating a change

It’s that time of year again. Now that the freshers aren’t feeling quite so fresh with thanks to DJ Hodor, and the rest of us are still stuck contemplating the perils of student housing, everyone is starting to settle back into the default Warwick mode of working first and playing later.

In line with this erratic time, sports initiations are just around the corner, serving to baptise the new herd of sportsmen and women into existing campus squads. While not all clubs hold such events, they have become a somewhat infamous rite of passage at universities across the UK. However, with intoxication as the focal point of these early socials, it’s not surprising that concerns have emerged.

Broadly speaking, traditional initiations consist of a theme that goes on to determine the course of the night’s fancy dress attire and comic challenges. Then, there are the punishments, which many of those whom I spoke to have come to view as old executive members cyclically exacting revenge on the first years, because they had it done to them ‘back in the day’.

While other universities across the country are currently shying away in embarrassment at their stu- dents’ misogynistic activities and the encouragement of singing necrophilic chants – yes, this happened – the realisation is there that, as The Inbetweeners clarified, maybe we aren’t so wild in relative terms. One of the most astounding sights of initiations last year, for example, was that of a ring of rough and tough newbies crawling around the piazza in nappies.

Yet still, in talking to club members across campus, there is a stagnant atmosphere of indignity and regret in the air; we do initiations, but we don’t speak of them. It almost resembles a 364- day walk of shame. Among the ‘whoops-a-daisy’ moments that seemingly characterise initiation events, there is ultimately an undeclared yet regrettable hint of ‘this doesn’t look great.’

In essence, the concept does seem ironic when sporting itself is a huge promoter of teamwork and bonding. Although not one to kill the apparent joy that stems from initiations, it’s still worth thinking about why we turn to cheap vodka concoctions to form these new bonds, and just how responsibly this is being carried out. In the year that ‘neknominations’ took off and landed back down with hordes of criticism, it isn’t much of a shock that this drinking culture exists, culminating in certain events throughout the academic year, and that some students are opposed to it.

It almost resembles a 364- day walk of shame

I spoke with Lauren Briner, Social Secretary of the History Society, on the de facto ‘societies gap’ in place, whereby sports clubs are mostly hailed as initiation centres, and societies are less inclined to place so much time and importance on heavy drinking: “I totally understand how sports clubs have that social element and if you’re not in a club, you do wish you were.

“But with History and other societies, if you don’t want to drink, we won’t force you to. Our role as Social Secretaries is to make sure people are comfortable and having fun.”

This mood also resonates among some sports clubs and members, with Andrew Tyrrell, BUKC Captain of Warwick Motorsport, adding that: “We replace heavy drinking well with non-pressured socials and trips.

“I don’t see what value [initiations] add to clubs. As a fresher, I specifically asked the club if they did initiations and would have seriously considered not joining if the answer had been ‘yes’.”

Yet, it’s not all bad news. In speaking to the two Social Secretaries of Mixed Hockey, Sam Brandom and David Perry, the former insisted that: “Friendships and bonds formed in social events really do change the shape of how people play on the pitch.”

David added that the club advo- cates an inclusive and accessible atmosphere, whereby no one person feels inferior nor humiliated. As such, they do not hold an initiation event. This is not only important for Mixed Hockey, a quintessential team sport, but also for the general promotion and image of campus clubs. In asserting a friendly ethos, teams can only thrive.

While the unspoken yet inherent potential for social issues are part and parcel of initiations, some clubs do not hold them simply for reasons of supply and demand. Josephine Dimbleby of the Karate club shared her experience: “Generally the interest in drinking is not great enough for us to take part in initiations. It has been so successful for other clubs, though; I guess they feel they should carry on the ‘tradition’, but bonding together by drinking isn’t really necessary.”

Interestingly enough, many clubs have adapted the event to be more of a challenge than a pre-determined stunt and act of humiliation; as such, ‘adoptions’, which gives the sense of entering a new family, has been coined. Perhaps this is the new, all-inclusive avenue for more sports clubs to take. Nevertheless, even the central involvement of alcohol can stint new members’ inclusion on both cultural and religious grounds.

Rites of passage in some form are a natural introduction to university life, whether they be carried out through training sessions, trips, tours or mysterious nights of cider and wine. It does seem, however, that clubs are as outwardly self-conscious now as they are inwardly; the stigma of the word ‘initiation’ has meant that some whom I spoke to were happy to contribute their opinions but did not want theirs, nor their club’s name to be featured. One can assume from this that an unspoken dishonour persists, but is never confronted. As such, this may be the end of initiations as we know them, but adoptions will surely remain to pick up the pieces responsibly and cater for the celebration of new members.

I’m adopted: students share stories from 2013 initiations 

Catherine Whittock, second-year Maths student:

“Having heard horror stories from other freshers who had already been to their club’s initiations, it was safe to say I was nervous for mine – scratch that, terrified! However, Trampolining ‘adoptions’ was actually some of the best fun I’d ever had! Completing bizarre challenges, such as collecting as many potatoes as possible, to win my team points was a great way to get to know people in the club, and to become a part of it. Drinking isn’t always a necessary ingredient; I was voted the club’s Social Secretary this year as someone who doesn’t drink alcohol. Now I get to show our new generation just how welcoming and amusing initiations have the potential to be.”

Rushab Shah, second-year Engineering student:

“Initiations, now widely known as adoptions, is a very “American” tradition. And, in my opinion it is definitely one of the best Atlantic practices that we’ve adopted over here. For me, dressing up in a mil- itary uniform and throwing myself into mud, wading in the trench on the way up to University House was one of the most surreal, yet best, experiences of university.

“We were split into groups of six with a veteran player and ran around campus to various stations completing challenges, involving anything from broccoli to milk concoctions, and, of course, lots of alcohol.

“I remain very good friends with all of those in my group, and was most impressed with one of them who doesn’t drink, yet still took part in the mischievous activities of the afternoon.

“Following on from the adoptions, hearing all the stories from the night and having a laugh about what you’ve done with the other club members definitely forms the basis of many friendships throughout the team.”

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