Initiation By Any Other Name

ALEX ALJOE lends some insight to ‘Welcome Drinks’…

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‘What’s that fishy smell?’ I innocently asked the boy standing next to me at my college bar last year during Freshers week. ‘My breath. I just ate a goldfish’ he retorted. This was my ‘initiation’ to the world of ‘welcome drinks’, the new name for a phenomenon that sweeps through university sport’s teams across the country around this time of year. The original term was banned at Durham University in February 2007, but evidently 4 years down the line, with only so much of a name change, the ‘welcome drinks’ are still in full flow. Literally.

In this day and age, sports clubs and “welcome drinks” go hand in hand. The annual ritual is a crucial social event for new members to gain respect, friends, nicknames and most importantly, a place in the squad. If not attended, or taken seriously, then the best idea is probably to withdraw from the club before you are kicked out for simply not being worthy of a place in the side. Students can no longer just join the team for the love of the game, but now equally, for the love of the lash.

Stories from the initiation night gel the team together, giving the team common topics to discuss in conversation at training, acting as pivotal icebreakers for awkward freshers. The outrageous tasks that they complete give them a sense of belonging, helping them to feel that they have better earned their place in the team. The question is – where do you draw the line with these tasks? The line has obviously been crossed when second years at another university are seen parading through the public in broad daylight dressed as Nazi officers commanding freshers dressed as Jews to drink on demand until they vomit.

However, is swimming naked and intoxicated down the River Wear acceptable? Is the consumption of three litres of cider in under three minutes a tad excessive? It has been suggested that sports initiations should be tamed by adding the line ‘but only if you want to…’ after ‘DOWN IT FRESHER’. Unfortunately the aspiring fresher will probably have ‘downed it’ before the second phrase is uttered. The answer is- when it comes to ‘welcome drinks’, there really is no line, and it is inevitably going to be crossed and challenged year after year.

A recent survey done shows that ALL ‘welcome drinks’ involved alcohol consumption; just under half involved nudity; and a fifth featured "physical abuse" as part of the initiation rite. It is a tradition that is simply impossible to ban, that will last through many more decades, dividing the tough from the weak and showing just who is going to perform both ON and OFF the pitch. Beware then innocent fresher, although initiation was banned at Durham four years ago, the tradition will live on, albeit under a disguised and inviting name.