‘It Would Be A Pain If This Gets Out’: the Boy’s Club and University Rugby

Ammara Aslam

As a chronic eavesdropper, the minute I hear something vaguely interesting it sticks. And when it sticks, I start to dig. This week I happened to overhear two lads squabbling over the ‘disgraceful’ state of UCL Rugby. Although I’d like to think I’ll win not a Pulitzer but the great journalistic honour of mysteriously disappearing for this piece, I probably won’t. This subject has been mulled-over time and time again with multiple exposés on UCL Rugby coming out each year. It’s like birthdays or Christmas, or at least a festivity for those of us who love to see this branch of ‘the boys’ club’ topple. 

What I do wish to explore is why they can never be held accountable. The cost of letting boys be boys has continually been proved high, scarring both parties – whether it’s the girls who were sexually harassed at their shindigs, or the boys who have quite literally been forced to drink to their deaths. With a simple focus on humanity, as opposed to getting twisted up in white-girl feminism, I find it confusing that rape and death are not enough to stop the appeal of these clubs and their traditions. 

An anonymous interview with a prospective UCL Rugby Club member was, among many things, insightful. Initially, my interviewee actually bailed on me, suggesting ‘It would be a pain if this gets out.’ After much back and forth, it is established that the harder these lads are put through the wringer, the better their performance is on the pitch. My interviewee cites Warwick and Durham as notoriously heavy-drinking clubs but excellent on the league tables. He adds that a close Warwick Rugby friend hates the drinking but powers through because he loves the sport. Powering through heavy drinking as a semi-pro athlete? An oxymoron if anything. This has really nothing to do with merely throwing a ball about but more so the prestige that comes with becoming a member. 

The extent of the ‘camaraderie’ found in team sports goes shockingly deep. If one of them slips up, whether that be getting into scrap after a bender or more seriously having, sexual harassment allegations thrown at them, they hastily cover each other up: no questions asked, I’ll call my dad’s lawyer. Bonds formed in these clubs follow these lads throughout their professional lives and my anonymous tip even suggests that the rugby at UCL is subpar but the culture is strong, making the club attractive. To summarise rich assholes + excessive drinking ‘culture’. 

All of this surmounts my original hypothesis that rugby is not the problem, making the ‘violent sport = violent guys’ card completely pointless. However, if and if you don’t possess a particular level of wealth and the nonchalance that comes with it you’re probably the prey. Aka the poor fresher getting his stomach pumped at the end of the night.

It’s not hard to understand why the boys’ club continues to thrive. The rich will always prevail, and the weird Hunger Games-style traditions they put themselves through traumatise them into brotherhood.

Suffering together is the ultimate form of human bond and when the reward at the end of it is a wham office at J.P. Morgan, enduring whatever they throw at you makes sense. Even if it’s at the cost of your mental health and very identity. Jokes aside, the idea of not conforming as a young man today is arguably as real as it was 40 or so years ago. And while ‘things are getting better’, as my interviewee claims, we must do more to look after our lads. I wish I could provide a solution to these problems; maybe locker-room talk really is sacred, maybe Friday night pub crawls truly are therapeutic but the truth of it all is that this pervasive ‘boys’ club’ attitude can only be bred out. Perhaps in some distant future elitism won’t dominate varsity sports but rather, talent will, ensuring that the connections made there aren’t built on such a detrimentally toxic excuse for a culture.

But in the meantime, I’ll keep eavesdropping and I’ll keep digging…