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Should universities do more to discourage the initiation rituals of sports clubs?


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Image by Emma ChappellA students’ union is designed solely for the purpose of protecting and enhancing the lives of its members. While it is easy to argue that its role should not include banning or controlling the initiation ceremonies of its sports teams, the bystander is equally as deserving of criticism as the bully. If this idea is applied to the role of the university in this case, there is only one conclusion.

It would be possible to claim that initiation ceremonies are harmless team building exercises had Britain not lost three of its students to the activities. The statistics are even higher abroad. In 2004, a survey conducted by student officer Mike Timmoth found that around a quarter of students had faced gruelling trials upon their entry to a sports team. The fact that something is traditional does not make it worthwhile; it merely demonstrates that fewer people stand up to it than comply.

Members of the public were shocked to discover that Cambridge undergraduates were required to down a pint of water containing a live goldfish to enter the drinking society at Magdalene College. Other students have told of the horror of being forced to ingest various body fluids and alcohol even whilst vomiting. I know for a fact that the prospect of similar tasks would put me off joining a sports team and who is to say that potential athletes are not lost as the result of such degrading formalities?

The argument that these activities encourage humility or team affinity is ridiculous. Initiation ceremonies only reinforce unnecessary age-group hierarchies through fear of those who should be advocating group equality. I can appreciate that occasional nudity may be in good humour; however, being forced to stomach dog food and lethal alcoholic concoctions by an elder dressed in Nazi attire is a step too far. After all, shouldn’t the respect of your peers be won on the sports field and not in the pub?

Universities should discourage the initiation ceremonies of its sports teams because if they take a back seat on this potentially harmful issue, they are inadvertently endorsing an increasingly brutal form of peer pressure. Undoubtedly a harsh stance to take, but this is definitely a case of a formerly light-hearted tradition being ruined for the majority by the few who crossed the line.

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