Are initiations good for team bonding and morale or are they bullying and unnecessary?
YES: Since becoming a student stories and rumours of sports initiations have been at the centre of Union policy and campus banter.
The most notorious of these are of course the rugby initiations with leaked stories of naked runs down Otley Road and excessive alcohol consumption. Even the word ‘initiation’ brings a wall of secrecy with it, so strong that not even members of the team or club should know any detail of the event.
To write this piece arguing that initiations could actually be a positive experience I decided I should ask a few individuals who had experienced the rituals of sports teams, however this proved more difficult than first anticipated.
I asked one person what their initiation involved, before hesitating for a moment they replied “I’m restricted to what I can say other than it was pretty brutal”. From this point onwards finding sufficient evidence highlighting the positive aspects of sports initiations was difficult.
Other people I asked simply refused to answer while others gave me the ‘who do you think you are?’ stare. One, more helpfully, told me “I’m part a sports team and team work and team building are huge factors involved. I suppose initiations are effective in achieving that but there also a funny way doing it. Are there others way of doing it? Yes of course but I wouldn’t change mine.”
It is clear the person asked enjoyed their experience and learnt about their team mates. It also seems initiations, despite their humiliation, are still one way of being accepted into ay tight community. Perhaps an initiation is a method of sieving out the weak, those who don’t deserve the camaraderie.
To ensure I fully understood sports initiations, I ventured down to Weetwood where I asked a few more individuals about what they actually involved. Again, I was met with unwilling replies. “I’m not really allowed to say anything. Just think of a quiet drink down the pub with a few surprises.” How much of that is true, I am not sure but “suprises” don’t sound unpleasant. Regardless of what goes on, it seems a sports initiation is something you take away and value enough to keep quiet about. Despite not being able to give me the details, my sources were more than willing to tell me what they got out of the experience. The initation ceremony was about “being part of a team” and “belonging to a long standing tradition.”
The themes of ‘team work’ and ‘sense of belonging’ continued to be mentioned and and I suppose really shouldn’t come as a surprise. For the majority of freshers, university life is the first time they have moved out of their home comfort zone with their old group of friends and associates spread out up and down the country. To have an opportunity to re-establish a new group, a new sense of belonging, is an opportunity perhaps they don’t want to miss. Is an initiation any different to your first drinking game with your new flat mates or your course social doing the Otley Run?
On the back of my extensive research I have come to the conclusion that initiations, if done safely, have more value than many people think they do. They provide an opportunity to establish a new support network and a new group of friends which contributes to the university experience. As long as they are enjoyed,safety guards are in place and people are choosing to take part, sports initiations can be a very positive experience.
Author: Joshua Jalal
Arguing NO: Sports initiations provide but promote peer pressure, bullying and binge drinking.
They are often the first social event for sports teams, posing as the chance to make new friends and be accepted into a team. Sports teams promote initiations as crucial ‘bonding time’; encouraging teamwork; a traditional and essential part of becoming ‘one of the guys’. However, many of the activities freshers are forced to take part in are degrading, humiliating and revolting.
People have claimed to have taken part in exercises that they feel uncomfortable doing because they fear exclusion from the team or being seen as weak by their new ‘friends’.
Older members of sports teams consider initiations as a rite of passage; having themselves suffered the ‘initiation experience’, they feel it is their duty to impose similar or worse ordeals on their younger team members. Most of the freshers will just have turned 18 and feel
unable to say no to older ‘superiors’.
According to rumour, during initiations students have been forced to take part in the consumption of live animals, vomit and animal food. In one rugby ceremony, students were allegedly asked to swallow a live fish and regurgitate it without it dying, being forced to drink a pint of theirs (or someone else’s) vomit if they failed the test.
Members of one team claim to have drunk alchohol which had been through the inside of a dead fish while others have reported having drunk out of animal carcasses such as pigs’ heads. These unsavory antics are not only for boys either, as girls also claim to have eaten dog food and chillies.
Regardless of gender, initiations are used to humiliate younger students. They impose ridiculous and often demeaning dresscodes for example, female freshers dressing as caterpillars covered in green face paint and padded out while older girls dress as attractive butterflies complete with glittery make-up and false eyelashes.
Netball teams have allegedly forced their new members to wear baby outfits complete with nappies.
A big problem with sports inititations is the promotion of binge drinking. A couple of drinks on a night out with friends is one thing, but initiations seem to actively encourage passing out and forgetting the night (whether this is due to the alchohol or a post-trauma response is unclear).
Initiations were banned from Exeter University when Gavin Britton, aged 18, died in 2006 after taking part in a Golf society initiation.
Having drunk a pint of pure spirits among other drinks, Britton was found in the street having died from alcohol posioning. Another student attending the initiation gave a statement claiming that there had been much pressure to drink during the ceremony, with freshers who failed to down their drinks within 30 seconds being awarded ‘penalty’ shots.
Tom Ward, 19, died of positional asphyxia in 2005 during Hull University’s rugby initiations. In a similar case, at Staffordshire University in 2003, Alex Doji, 18, died after a rugby initiation, having choked on his own vomit. Consequently, the National Union of Students has pushed universites to ban initiation ceremonies throughtout the UK.
Southampton University was one of the first universities to ban inititations in 2001 and Leeds University Union outlawed initiations for its societies 5 years ago.
Joining a sports team is about commitment to a sport rather than a commitment to drinking and anti-social behaviour. Sports initiations should return to promoting team work and bonding between new members rather than enforcing these humiliating trials.
Carina Derhalli & Beatrix Passmore