As the weather gets warmer, more and more students are thinking about digging out trainers that haven’t seen daylight since long before Christmas and joining a sports club. Every student union across the country has a variety of sports clubs, many of which are extremely prestigious, but what comes with joining such a club? Unlike most other societies, sports often have initiation processes; something that normally only happens in cheesy American films. So what do SU sports initiations entail in the UK? Are they horrible events that should be banned, or do people blow things out of proportion?
One student, from a university in the midlands, has some hairy stories: “The university hockey team was made to drink fairy liquid. Someone even went to hospital because of it. The dance society had to eat raw chillies and onions and the rugby team made freshers put on gimp masks while the older students walked them on leads and whipped them; they had to crawl around town.”
Unfortunately the idea of forcing people to eat and drink things that really should not be consumed is common. Another student from a university in Wales says that “a fresher in the rugby team had a bucket taped to his hand and to another guy’s. They made them eat dog food and drink milk until they were sick. They had to be sick and wee into the bucket and at the end of the night they had to split the contents between them and drink it.”
Many people may be surprised to hear such shocking stories, but another student from a different university has a lot to say: “I don't want the club getting a bad rep, even if I don't agree with their traditions. Most of the time you hear fun stories about initiations that seem like good, light hearted bonding sessions.”
However, her experience was far more vindictive and she even describes it as “institutionalised bullying”. She speaks of fellow students being made to bite fish heads off, drink from a vessel with a pig heart in it, consume various foods and alcohol that were deliberately vile or gone off and complete various other unsavoury challenges. “It's a vicious cycle because people want to do it to others the following year, just because they had to experience it, and there's a code of silence which means the whole tradition is never questioned.”
One such sports club that joined in with similar initiation activities has officially been banned. Last year the University of Sussex student union disbanded the men’s rugby club for a period of two years following damages on their summer tour. Members of the team were forced to pay £15,000 after players damaged a tour bus, and after years of other rumours, the SU felt it had to act.
As horrific as many of these examples are, not everyone involved in sport at university feels the same. James Evans, a rugby player at the University of Aberystwyth, defends initiations: “My opinion is that the vast majority of people who complain have never taken part in an initiation. Especially with rugby, which is ‘notorious’, a lot of stories become exaggerated or merged with stories from other universities.”
Many people agree, particularly the idea of rumours spiralling out of control and getting taken out of context. They describe their initiations being a fun process and a great way to make friends.
“I don't know whether you'd count dance society as a sport but the initiation was more fun than anything else,” says University of Sheffield student Alice Preston-Jones. “We got to know people really well and had a great time. I guess the pressure was to drink, which I didn't mind but would have put me off if I didn't like drinking. We could stop if we wanted and generally had a really good laugh.”
Perhaps it is the case that initiations can be fun and a great way to meet other students, but these horror stories can’t be ignored. Every year students are made ill or even hospitalised from initiation processes and are pressured into doing some incredibly obscene activities. Of course this is not true of every club at every university, but numerous tales of people being forced to take part in sexual activities and drinking undrinkable mustn't be overlooked.