“It Was Just Banter…”: A Critical Reflection on Male Sports Teams and ‘Welcome Drinks’

Freshers and initiations have shared an inseparable symbiotic relationship since sport’s humble beginning. Yet, you will not find any ‘banter’ fuelled, fresher f*#%k, fully naked fellatio or any other fricatives floating through the bailey colleges. The botanic gardens, the blossoming pride of the hill colleges, will not be landscaped by a hoard of Edward cider-hands, fertilising the soil with their freshly churned chun to the sound of over-zealous 2nd/3rd years, intent on hurling constructive criticism on how to appropriately replicate a dragon.

This is Durham. This highly esteemed university would never allow such perverse and dehumanising rites of passage to be acted out on its hallowed ground.

At least, not in the name of initiations.

Here we do welcome drinks because it makes us all feel welcome. Or does it? Swallowing live gold fish, doing a naked worm, downing 3 litres of white ace (naked), having a dunk in the river, masturbating on a public bus. The list seems endless. Drinking from a pig’s head, trashing restaurants, being beaten with paddles (naked once again). Whether these events actually happened or were merely pejorated beyond recognition, we may never know. Similarly, the benefits of such antics are just as disputable.

Granted, welcome drinks provide sadistic 2nd/3rd years the chance to purge their feelings of innate resentment and pent up frustration on some unsuspecting fresh-ling in the hope that the university may for another year prosper from reductions in violent crime, drug abuse, unemployment and student debt (thank the New Founding Fathers).

They can also be, if handled appropriately, an incredible night out, with all members engaging in light hearted frivolities; chipping away the ice and thawing the social boundaries which often persist at university. The old take the new under their withered wing, offering advice on university life before giving a reassuring scuffle of the hair and sending the little “champ” to the bar to get the round in. Yes, the fresh-ling may have to fork out for a couple of bevies but the night is taken in good jest and the freshers crawl back to college all safe and sound, reciting the valuable gems of wisdom preached to them that night; never again will they hold their drink in their right hand; never again will they forget to shout not out; never again will they look at a toilet brush without tightening their sphincter.

Not only this, but there may be a level of psychological method in the mist of such madness. The feeling of embarrassment, inferiority and self loathing which accompany most of these events creates a unique concoction of shared pain amongst its victims. Those who make it through this ordeal will form life long, unbreakable bonds which can increase the synergy and co-operation amongst members, on and off the pitch. There is also the argument that these sacred ceremonies uphold many of the traditions which teams hold so dear, enforcing the norms and values of the club. If each individual is indoctrinated into the club in a similar manner, naked or not, they will encapsulate a shared set of values which promotes a greater level of team cohesion.

Yet, it’s not all good news. Male contact sports tend to be at the forefront of national Jimmy Savile related scandals, which has left many to propose that these sporting institutions stand as bastions of misogyny and homophobia, with others going a step further claiming that they instigate a ‘rape culture’. Researchers have found that fraternity memberships, such as those that exist in many collegiate sporting teams, promote a form of hyper masculinity, revolving around the persona of toughness, aggressiveness and dominance, all of which manifest themselves into sexual aggression towards those perceived as weaker.

Literature tends to link this form of masculinity to the authoritarian environment and the established social hierarchy which exists in many sports clubs. The result of this, when applied to the scenario of welcome drinks, can raise many serious issues. For example, in professional football, social hierarchies within a team have lead to subordination of young footballers in initiation ceremonies like “The Finger”, performed at Stoke City FC in the 1980s, which involved new players being sexual assaulted with a keepers glove covered in heat cream. It is, therefore, troubling to think that sporting clubs, even at amateur level, could foster such hyper masculine personas which effectuate sexual aggression against those perceived as weaker. Consequently, if these behaviours are learnt and enforced at socials such as welcome drinks, then there is a blatant call for change.

Obviously such serious notions spark heated discussions and debates, lighting the torches of prejudice against all those who take part in these ritualistic routines. If left unchecked, welcome drinks may not only result in serious physical and mental damage for all those participating, but could also have detrimental effects on the surrounding community, whether it be through intimidation or vandalism. It’s therefore up to those who are involved, no matter what year of study or position of power, be it a fresher or a 3rd year social sec, to ensure the safety and welfare of all those taking part.

If welcome drinks are to survive (i.e. remain undetected by the university), teams must strive to endorse a socially inclusive club based on values of fun, equality and acceptance; not degradation, objectification and prejudice.

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