As Loughborough gets set to clinch their 33rd consecutive year as BUCS champions, no one can question how the AU channel their competitive energy. However, as concerns rise about the university binge drinking culture, how does this competitive spirit present itself outside of the game? As the competitive sport of team drinking?

Kicking off at the start of year with the infamous initiation ceremony, usually disguised as a ‘welcome party’, the emphasis on drink sets the tone for the coming year. Widely disputed and often condemned due to the nature of its radical challenges and the copious amount of alcohol consumed, year after year the prominent event introduces freshers to the concept of hierarchy. It is apparent both on and off the field, and the structure of competitive sport challenges the newest members of the team to earn their place. What better way to do this than necking off a Nasty at the command of one of your teammates?

However, bombarded with instructions to ‘down this’ and ‘see that off’, seasoned drinkers and amateurs alike are forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol. With team socials hosted around the resident AU night at Hey Ewe!, freshers are encouraged to attend pre-drinks made up of an array of alcohol-related games. It can often feel like everyone is pitted against one another by their hierarchical elders; the most notorious fresher names are often the ones with the best stories. As the messy nights continue, the fight to out-drink one another is a dangerous game to play that often ends in misery. So with all this misery in mind, we have to question, why do it?

Contrary to popular opinion that demonises competitive drinking, the team that chooses to moderate this practice can actually reap the benefits. In fact, for freshers the presence of alcohol in a team environment may help to alleviate feelings of anxiety and close the gap between them and the senior members.  In addition, spending time together outside of the allocated training slots not only allows the team to form friendships that will endure, but also challenges the ‘veterans’ to take responsibility for the success and safety of their team.

In order to do so, teams must agree to moderate the peer pressure they apply dependent on each individual, opting instead for a balanced approach that couples enjoyable demonstrations of competition and responsibility. By doing so, they will minimise the detrimental impact on the health of individuals, whilst continuing to engage with popular traditions of social bonding.

A recent finding from a third year Sport & Exercise Science dissertation, focussing on the topic of initiation ceremonies, has shown that AU clubs have incorporated this idea into their practices: Hockey club members openly stated that alcohol was used more as a ‘refreshment’ between tasks than being a central focus of the ceremony. Furthermore, many freshers stated that senior members showed a level of leniency when it came to alcohol consumption, with a ‘well, you’ve made an effort, that will do’ approach, rather than forcing individuals to consume to dangerous levels.

From recent reports, the AU has passed a Social Behaviour Policy through Union Council over the last few months. This policy compiles rules concerning on and off-field conduct, transport issues and committee responsibilities. There is also a large section concerning social events and ‘welcome parties’, listing prohibited substances and tasks, with related sanctions also included. Acknowledging the existence and tradition of initiation ceremonies, knowing they are likely to continue regardless, shows that the AU itself is highly concerned for the welfare of its athletes in all situations, without eliminating the enjoyment of social sport.

Designed to be fun, it is not a question of the dark nature of competitive drinking but the dark nature of those enforcing it. In light of this, the answer is quite simple – teach responsibility and condemn those who take it too far. However if all else fails, the responsibility lies with the every individual because let’s be honest, you can always just say NO.

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