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Sports clubs, lad culture, and not blaming Nick Swain


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The outgoing president of Warwick University Student's Union has been criticised for unhooking a female student's bra in public. Whether the behaviour was wrong or not, Swain has been scapegoated for something that is far more widespread than many believe. 

The female student involved has said that Nick Swain's actions have been taken out of context, that he caused no offence, and that the two were friends. Opinion has still been divided over whether or not Nick Swain's behaviour was wrong, but I think that the overall behaviour of those in the club is representative of something more common, and this is wrong. The NUS has just produced a report into lad culture, which argues that "through its use of "banter", "lad culture" can normalise language and attitudes that are supportive of sexual harassment and violence."

In the video Nick Swain is in, the 'lads' are shouting the familiar chant of: "Get your tits out! Get your tits out!" Until writing this article, I have discussed with agreeing friends my belief that 'lad culture', including the kind of things shown in the video, seems to be commonplace and even encouraged in snow sports clubs far more than other clubs. What is it about snow sports clubs, I've asked, which makes this so normal?

Click here to view the video.

Upon joining university and choosing the sports clubs I wished to join, I was warned away from the snow sports club. It was the opinion of the person I met that the snow sports club placed a lot of pressure on drinking heavily. Furthermore, there were apparently more drinking socials than there was skiing or snowboarding practice. Although the strong opinion of only one individual, over the past three years I have heard further opinions of this nature. If you plan to ski or snowboard on a trip abroad, instead of having sex or wasting your time with hangovers, you should go on your own, I was told. Even better, go with a group of friends so that you don't have to share a room with the nocturnal. 

I thought this was sad. I imagined sitting on the bus on the way back, going through fantastic photographs of mountain tops and reminiscing over the black slopes I managed a controlled hurtle down, while everyone else shouts out about who slept with who and who undid who's bra. So when I heard about the Nick Swain situation, I felt sorry for him: why should one person be held responsible for the culture of a club? 

Yet I have been assured that our club is not representative of snow sports clubs nationally. Thomas Beshaw, a skier at the University of Surrey, says: "With Snowsports (well, all sports clubs for that matter), nudity is a fairly common thing, but it's just where the limit is." Each club is different, so some will have a lower limit or will balance the alcohol and sports differently. Furthermore, I need only mention rugby clubs to stir up images of insane initiations, some of which are mentioned in the NUS report.

The report also claims that "sports clubs and their initiations appear to be a major component of "lad culture", drawing on the "pack" aspect of the culture as well as the consumption of alcohol." This means that the behaviour exhibited in the video is prevalent in a host of sports clubs. Some have reminded me that it is more generally part of student culture too (although it should be added that it is not a necessary part of student culture and varies through universities and social groups). It is a shame that one person has been targeted for a behaviour which is prevalent in many places, but with the addition of an NUS report that does not reference Nick Swain's behaviour, questions about why this is acceptable can finally be addressed. 

When I've been asked why I believe the behaviour shown in the video is wrong, whether or not it was light-hearted or accepted by people there, my response has been that people should be able to dress how they want, stand how they want, and socialise as they like without being concerned with guarding their back in case something like this should happen. As every university club has to ensure the welfare of its members, I would like to think that the issue will be addressed by Warwick's snow sports club to ensure that new and old members feel comfortable. 

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