Initiations: Are they Really Optional?

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For centuries, man has forced ruthless initiation rituals upon those wanting to infiltrate whatever team or group they represent. Ancient Greece harboured the infamous Spartans, whose initiations for young men involved beatings and bloodshed. The Huns ran their initiations in similar ways and various African tribes continue to employ such methods in their own initiations. Thankfully, the initiations for university sports teams are not so vicious. Instead of blood and gore, we can anticipate the involvement of alcohol, vomit, urine and – if you’re lucky – a concoction of milk, eggs and fish paste. Although nothing compared to Spartan brutality, initiations can be nasty and may lead to unpleasant consequences.  So why do freshers participate in the Initiations? And do the leaders of the initiations take things too far?

Years ago at Loughborough University, initiations were not optional. If you wanted to become part of a team, you were required to participate in the challenges. Nowadays, things have changed and it is not compulsory to attend. This should be somewhat of a relief, as after talking to a number of freshers, it became evident that they were full of anxiety prior to their initiations- especially after hearing the innumerable horror stories surrounding them. Despite their nervousness, freshers still feel they have to attend the initiations to fully integrate into the team and to avoid derision from team members. Is participating really optional? A substantial amount of freshers do not want to participate but believe the challenges are worth doing if it eliminates the chance of facing unpopularity.

A female rugby member said: “It was worth it – it makes you closer and more dedicated to the team. People always know if you did the initiation or not and it sticks to you”. Ignoring the disgusting tests encircling them, it seems initiations can break down barriers between team members and allow for valuable bonding, leading to good rapport between players on and off the pitch.

A male player stated that “the rewards, of being part of the dysfunctional brotherhood that comes from being initiated, outweighs the hour of having to do things you wouldn't necessarily ever do”.  He expressed that he feels no regret in attending, even though his immune system paid for it later on. Similarly, a male hockey player expressed a lack of regret, but found no incentive of bonding as the other two players had. His reward remains to be an avoidance of mockery.

The question of safety during these initiations cannot be overlooked. What freshers ingest during the activities can cause a fair amount of problems. Undoubtedly, an excess amount of alcohol is a lead concern, (although some ‘foods’ on the initiation menu certainly have the potential to wreak havoc on our systems).  An extremely drunk fresher could cause difficulties, including the possibility of hospitalisation. Choosing to drink alcohol during a night out at the Union is markedly different from being ordered to drink. For some, Initiations create a platform for heightened peer pressure! Even if your body was screaming ‘no’, would you refuse the extra shot during your initiation? Or would you remain a team player?

Surely there is an alternative way of creating bonds between members. Should playing the sport itself not allow for the development of bonds? This coupled with a few milder drinking games and a good night out might have the same effect. Or does enduring hardship with your team mates really create the ultimate bond? Regardless, the initiation rituals are unlikely to stop anytime soon. Perhaps, we no longer know why we do them and are merely keeping up a long-standing university tradition. Either way, at least you only have to go through them once…

Serena Gainda

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