The Sporting Underworld: Initiations
Initiation as a word has been dragged down into the doldrums of the English Language with the bad connotations it has recently acquired.
Is their reputation deserved or has media frenzy and isolated cases resulted in unsubstantiated hype?
Is the ban on initiations not only justifiable but workable?
In America, some studies indicate that as many as 89 students have died as a result of ‘hazing’ – the American term used for the initiations and rituals new members of societies and clubs undergo – compared to 3 reported deaths across the United Kingdom.
In the light of the fact that people have paid with their lives, it would appear that the reputation initiations have garnered is fully deserved and this is certainly the official view held by the Students’ Union, who have banned all initiations.
However, in spite of bans, initiations of some description continue to take place amongst Sussex sports’ societies.
York University’s newspaper certainly like to think so.
The University’s equivalent of the Badger ran a story a few years back claiming that Sussex University’s Mens’ Hockey Team had initiations amongst the worst in the country.
The story gathered so much attention that the then Activities Officer, Scott Sheridan, had to attend and watch the first Hockey socials.
Despite all of the hyperbole, the allegations were completely unfounded and the Mens’ Hockey Team were perplexed by the story, as their initiations had never consisted of more than a fairly innocuous assault course.
There are however, more exuberant initiations going on at Sussex.
One club has been known to put its fresher members through a series of challenges, ranging from being rolled around and forcibly dragged through mud to having their faces pushed into mixes of flour and alcohol and eating maggots.
Another club even requires its new members to wear leads and act like dogs on nights out, crawling on their hands and knees and rolling around the floors of night clubs in Brighton.
One sportsman told an editor that he was made to wear a nappy to go to the toilet and had his privates cleaned by other members of the team.
These, of course, are often combined with excessive drinking; but while they are degrading and at times disgusting, the vast majority of members get involved.
Many of those who were willing to give away snippets of information, looked back on their initiations without regret – a fact which might surprise many appalled outsiders.
While we can all acknowledge initiations can and have gotten out of hand, with tragic consequences on student campuses across the world, speaking from my own perspective and experience, initiations have the power to unite and bring everyone together.
While at times they may border on viscosity, when monitored well, they can create a strong sense of team spirit.
It saddens me somewhat that, in the writing of this article, I was unable to locate anyone willing to talk in depth about their initiation experience at Sussex.
Several people pulled out of the exercise in the fear that they would be identified.
Because they are prohibited these traditions remain a largely hidden and unknown aspect of Sussex culture.
Perhaps it is time that the University and Union acknowledge the existence of these practices so that they can provide guidelines and advice to leaders and members and prevent initiations from becoming a sinister underbelly to the sporting world.