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‘When we win, we drink; when we lose, we drink – it doesn’t matter’: The relationship between student sport and alcohol

The Glasgow Guardian speaks to student sportspeople about binge drinking, the pressures around sport social events and the impact of alcohol on mental health and academics

Binge drinking is commonplace in university sports. Studies have reported that students involved in university sport, even those who take part in organised recreational sport, drink excessively and drink more than students who do not participate in university sport at all. Even if the frequency at which students involved in sports drink does not necessarily exceed that of other students, it has been reported that student sportspeople are intoxicated more often, consume greater quantities of alcohol, engage more frequently in binge drinking, and appear to experience more alcohol-related problems than other students. 

With research uncovering the fact that student sportspeople face numerous pressures to drink heavily and often, The Glasgow Guardian spoke to several students, who wish to remain anonymous, about the availability and promotion of alcohol to athletes and the drinking culture within university sport. 

“There are social events almost every Wednesday night,” said one student. “More often than not these involve dressing up in a costume, playing drinking games and doing some sort of pub crawl across the West End before ending the night in the student union. For some this is fun and exciting, however for others, who are less outgoing or quieter, it can be a really daunting experience out of the fear of embarrassment or humiliation.

“Heavy drinking is often praised and the people who drink more are said to be more fun and the people that others want to be around all the time. Those who drink less or not at all are regularly forgotten about on nights out and sometimes even end up looking after the most drunk people, walking them home or forcing water down them to help them sober up.”

While sporting events often serve as a reason for students to come together, whether it is cheering for a university team, celebrating a victory or participating in recreational activities to meet new people and take a break from studying, the negative effects of drinking and alcohol on the mental and physical health of students are serious. 

Another student discussed the impact of excessive sport-related alcohol consumption on their academics and mental health: “After all of our matches, we always go to the pub for a couple of drinks. When we win, we drink; when we lose, we drink – it doesn’t matter. However, as a team, we make it clear to each other and ourselves that we are not drinking to cover intense emotions surrounding victories or defeat. We are drinking to socialise and form personal connections and relationships away from the pitch. 

“We understand that when linked to emotions, binge drinking can be extremely dangerous and have long term consequences. We do not force anyone to drink alcohol, if they are not comfortable or do not want to, whatever that reason may be. As far as I, and many others, are concerned, academics is the most important aspect of university and if someone has a deadline or wants to focus on studying then that is not going to hinder them on the team in any way. We’re trying really hard to move away from the university sport team stereotypes.”

“As a large club, we regularly face complaints from the student union, local pubs and residents in the area surrounding rowdy behaviour and excessive drinking. This is not the image that we want to portray to people so we are now beginning to implement different strategies to ensure that we are not disrupting others and creating a safe environment for everyone in the club.

“We have created a series of posts for social media informing our members about the dangers of excessive and binge drinking, the importance of food and water before a night out as well as a reminder that it is not necessary to drink alcohol to have fun and to know your limits. We’re also in the process of introducing sober representatives for social events that can help people if they feel uncomfortable or have drank too much. Hopefully, both of these alongside our sober socials, which shift the focus away from alcohol and concentrate on promoting a more inclusive and balanced social scene, will improve our reputation and show new members that university drinking culture does not have to be intimidating and humiliating.”

There is no doubt that sports have the ability to create a sense of belonging and community at university, however, the way in which this is achieved has to be closely monitored and in many cases improved. By implementing strategies to mitigate a culture of binge drinking, sports clubs can promote a better relationship between alcohol and sport, and a more positive student experience overall, based on improved health and inclusivity. Drinking and social events at university can be a lot of fun but they are not the be all and end all.

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