Last week’s article in The Times, by Alex Lowe, revealed some of the sickening initiations that freshers joining university sports teams across the country must undergo, and has sparked widespread shock and outrage.
From stories of fishing dead rats out of cider to having vomit thrown over them, the initiations described in the article were labelled “stomach-turning” by Steve Grainger, the RFU’s rugby development officer.
It is hard to disagree with this description: accounts of people being urinated on and having to stick their thumbs up other’s backsides can only be seen as disgusting and degrading.
The universities named and shamed included Manchester, Loughborough, and Bath. Yet, the article insinuated that this was a problem not just in these select establishments but was instead widespread in universities across the country.
These initiations were seen as symptomatic of a ‘lad culture’ that has grown out of control in sports teams, with rugby bearing the worst reputation. Most worrying though, was the claim that this kind of behaviour was leading to a decrease in participation in the sport at university level as players chose to bypass it by joining other clubs.
The University of Edinburgh was not mentioned in this article and for good reason. Initiations are banned by the Sports Union and clubs that are found to be holding anything resembling one are disbanded.
The Edinburgh University Rugby Football Club is also keen to avoid any idea of fresher-bashing, and make it clear that they accord with the Sport Union’s regulations by not holding initiations. When asked about such rituals, James Carson, the club captain, said: “We as a club do not partake in initiations as we think them to be intimidatory and overly aggressive.”
He instead preferred to focus on the ways in which the club ensures that “everyone, new and old members are enjoying themselves and are comfortable with what is going on. Our aim is not to shame or intimidate our new members but rather to invite them into the club and give them a flavour as to what the club is all about.”
These methods were clearly on show at Wednesday’s club social, which, this week, featured the club’s annual ‘fathers and sons’ evening. In this, each senior player is paired with a fresher who becomes their ‘son’, and it is the role of the ‘father’ to accompany their youngster and buy their drinks for the evening. This led to an intermingling of the senior and junior players and gave the impression of a powerful club environment in which everyone was involved and enjoying themselves.
Carson pointed out the difficulties for those joining a university club by saying: “To come into a club where members have been there for upwards of three years and have formed great friendships can be incredibly intimidating for new members. However, it is our aim in our welcoming to make these new boys more comfortable with their surroundings and with the other members they will be playing with. I wholeheartedly believe we achieve that, as can be seen by the phenomenal feedback we have received from freshers this year.”
By acknowledging these potential problems, Carson displayed a thoughtfulness that is rarely associated with rugby players and he suggests that he is “very keen to break the stereotype of rugby clubs across the country. We are not bullies, we are not snobs and we certainly are not here to put prospective members off joining us. Rather, we are a group of young men who share a love of the same sport and equally enjoy having a beer afterwards.”
The togetherness that the club has achieved has so far been evident on the pitch as well as off it. The 1st XV lie mid-table in their North A league after back-to-back promotions and a Scottish Varsity victory. The 2nd XV are undefeated in their league while the club have also been regularly able to field 3rd and 4th XVs. It speaks of a strong bond throughout the club that is evidenced by the large numbers of supporters that are always in attendance at home games.
Lowe’s article was correct to condemn the atrocities of other university rugby clubs and their initiations. Instances such as those have no place in sport or society and must be stamped out before they damage the sport’s reputation irreparably.
Yet, it is clear that Edinburgh’s rugby culture does not stretch to such horrific extremes. With the friendly figure of Carson at the helm, the club is going from strength to strength and establishing a club and a culture that the university can be proud of.
Image Courtesy of Edinburgh University Rugby Football Club