Do sports societies at university need to be more inclusive?

Sports societies have a reputation for being debauched - and maybe a little prejudicial. Can they change?

The mere mention of sports societies at university conjures up but a few images: training in mud, heavy drinking socials and lest we forget, the legendary annual ‘tour’. The NUS says over 100,000 students participate in sport at university level - so sports societies are a huge feature of students’ experience. But is there a darker side to sport at university; are sports societies responsible for excluding minorities?

A third (35 per cent) of the LGBT community (lesbian, gay, bisexual and Trans*) students at university participate in team sport. The NUS 2012 report ‘Out in Sport: LGBT Students’ Experiences of Sport’ reveals that one in five respondents were not open about their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of verbal or physical abuse. 13 per cent of these expressed fear of being ostracised within the team and even being kicked out. For Trans* respondents, the percentage was dramatically higher, with 28 per cent fearing physical abuse.

Perhaps this fear stems from the ‘lad culture’ that dominates sporting societies in university, and the expectations of male team members who are encouraged to demonstrate their masculinity through aggression on the field and during liaisons with the opposite sex. A gay male student, who did not wish to be named, concurs: "I find lad culture completely intimidating and fear being ridiculed".

These experiences are in complete contrast to the equality ideals of university education yet they are still being experienced by members of the LGBT community.

Sky Yarlett, the NUS' LGBT officer says: “While many LGBT students find sports teams to be welcoming it is clear that many are put off by a fear of homophobia or negative past experiences which have created barriers to their involvement. We have seen a welcome increase in the awareness of diversity in sport in recent years but too many LGBT students still feel that it is a world closed off to them.”

Religious discrimination

Exclusion is not restricted to sexual orientation, either. Those who belong to a religious group, for example, Islam, where the consumption of alcohol is prohibited, can often feel alienated from sports societies, which heavily emphasise weekly socials dominated by the consumption of alcohol as part of their bonding culture. Sporting socials also extend to 'tour', a sporting holiday where students descend on European cities such Salou during the Easter vacation to embrace cheap all-you-can-drink deals.

A teetotal third-year student says that she wanted to join the hockey team 'as I had been playing since school'. However, her experience of it at university level was 'not pleasant'.

"Sport was not the main reason why people joined; rather it was mainly centred on drinking until you vomit and trying to sleep with as many of the ‘hockey boys’ as possible. I didn’t stick around for long."

With anecdotes like that, perhaps it is unsurprising that the intense drinking culture of sports societies alienates teetotal members.

The solution

What needs to be done to ensure sports societies are more inclusive? One step would be to make people feel comfortable about being open with their sexuality and gender. A survey respondent, a self-identifying lesbian woman in higher education said: “Make sure they know they are in an inclusive and supportive environment as people won’t come out if they are worried they would then be excluded.”

A further step to make sport more inclusive is to change negative attitudes towards gay and trans* people within schools, something 48 per cent of respondents agreed with. Furthermore, a third of respondents also said that celebrating LGBT role models in sport and would make it more LGBT-friendly. The NUS' own report recommends that sports teams should demonstrate inclusivity and have a zero-tolerance approach to abuse.

There has been some progress to make sporting societies more inclusive in my own university, the University of Kent. Team Kent, the sporting body, and Kent Union, have signed up to a new sports charter aimed at tackling homophobia and transphobia in sport. The charter is divided into four sections and focuses on eradicating discrimination in sport, with one section stating: ‘we believe that everyone should be able to participate in and enjoy sport – whoever they are and whatever their background... We will work together, and individually, to rid sport of homophobia and transphobia’.

Team Kent has since said that it 'won’t just be signing up but implementing processes to train new committees and offer stand out training in order to raise the awareness of the issues and to improve inclusivity across all of our clubs. Sport is for everyone regardless of your gender, ethnicity, race or background and Team Kent are proud to champion the Sports For All ethos.'

Kent Union's vice-president for sport, Matt Harris, welcomes the signing of the charter on campus.

"We believe that our clubs and our students should all get the same fair and equal treatment. By signing the charter we are also conveying a message to our supporters that we will stand up to discrimination, build a more family friendly club and create an environment where there is no room for abuse within each of our sports."

While I welcome the fact that my university is actively challenging institutional exclusion of minorities, will such commitments ensure that university sports clubs become more inclusive in the near future? I am not so sure.

Suggested Topics
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness