Drinking has been synonymous with university societies for some time now. There are of course those societies that do not involve drinking but, for the majority, most events and socials centre around alcohol. This is particularly true when it comes to sports societies, with some teams better known for their history with alcohol than others.
It makes sense in many ways: we live in a country where socialising is often done at the pub or over a glass of wine at home. Many of us start drinking at home with our families when we are teenagers and by the time we come to university, drinking is a normal part of our lives. However, for many students, university is the first time where they drink regularly and test the boundaries of how much alcohol they can ingest.
This is often encouraged in sport society initiations and socials. Going to the Beer Bar on a Wednesday night is often accompanied with listening to first years chuck up their guts whilst you sit on the toilet, or standing in the smoking area and overhearing a guy telling his friend to go and have a tactical so they can make it out to the club. Whilst this is pretty common behaviour at university, it is only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve realised how strange it is. Drinking to the point of being sick, or so that you look cool in front of your mates because you can down a pint in under 5 seconds, is starting to look pretty disgusting and immature. Maybe I’m just getting older and more boring, but I like being able to go home at the end of a night without having to look after a friend or having been looked after myself, due to drinking too much.
I am not part of any sports societies here at university, mainly because I am incredibly lazy and my interests are based more around music and the outdoors. But, for some who do not join, it is a result of the drinking culture which comes with the sport. Most of my friends here also are not involved in sports, but from chatting with them about why they are not I have learnt that they have been really put off by the drinking expectations. This is particularly true for some of my friends who wanted to get involved with rugby. I find this quite sad as I know these guys would be great assets to our rugby team. But after hearing stories of their initiations, I can understand why.
Some of you may say that the drinking part of sports societies is not compulsory and if people want to play sport without joining in then they can. This is of course true, but an element of exclusion and expectation means that many feel like they do have to get involved if they join a sports club. This is why individuals put themselves through initiation games which they clearly do not enjoy. A sense of being a part of a team and making friends is why a lot of people play sport at university.
Some of you may also say that people can join in and opt out when they feel uncomfortable. Again, this is true, but again, this very rarely happens. It takes a lot to say no to joining in with drinking games when you have 30 other men or women calling you a “wimp” or a “pussy” for not doing so. One of my best friends did so this year during his sports initiation and even though at the time it received backlash and taunting from his team mates, he later received a message from one of the other members, telling him that he really looked up to him for not bowing down to the pressure. That story is what made me really wonder how many of those boys only joined in because they felt they had to.
Many religions and cultures also discourage or do not permit consuming alcohol. This puts off a significant number of the university population from joining particular sports teams because of their association with alcohol. At some universities, there has been a big push to disassociate sports teams and alcohol; it had mixed responses at first, but now means that the sports teams are much more accessible to all.
Whilst I know drinking will always be a part of societies’ socials, I think it is important for these groups to consider the impact of this on their membership. Drinking is fun and very normal in our society, but it should be done in a way that means it is not making people feel excluded at university.