Gay and inclusive rugby teams have been around for the past twenty years and in that time, they have helped change the character of the game. Rugby is a tough and physical sport but it is also one where professionals at the highest levels of competition feel comfortable coming out of the closet or stepping up as GLBTQ allies. In August alone, two professional players (Keegan Hirst and Sam Stanley) came out of the closet and were both embraced by their teammates and fans.
Rugby’s emergence as a safe space for gay players and officials is not a recent one – over 800 players on teams from around the world competed for the fourth gay rugby world championship in Dublin just a year before the first professional player came out in 2009. Since then, more players and officials have come out and the world championship, named after Mark Bingham, who died on September 11, has drawn attention to the importance of inclusiveness at all levels of the game.
USA Rugby, the highest governing body in American rugby, has moved to further confirm the sport’s reputation for inclusiveness by signing a memorandum of understanding with International Gay Rugby, the organization responsible for providing support to gay and inclusive clubs. The memorandum lays out USA Rugby’s goal to end homophobia in the sport and also confirms support for gay and inclusive clubs, especially in the run up to the Bingham Cup.
Commitments from governing bodies like USA Rugby are important making team sports welcoming to gay athletes. They provide support and set policies for teams at all levels of competition – from middle school club teams all the way to the national team about to compete in the Rugby World Cup. Policies to combat homophobia set by USA Rugby can therefore help countless athletes.
“It’s thrilling to see USA Rugby and International Gay Rugby take these steps to eradicate homophobia in the game. Their efforts will ensure a more inclusive and secure environment for all LGBT rugby players around the world, and we hope other professional organizations in the U.S. and abroad will follow their example.” said Helen Carroll with the Sports Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
According to its recently released statement, “USA Rugby will work with its own member associations, clubs, and unions to improve acceptance of LGBT members, provide educational tools to support in the elimination of perceived and institutionalized homophobia in the game, and help support IGR events.”
USA Rugby will also provide support to the Nashville Grizzlies, who will be hosting the Bingham Cup here in Nashville in May 2016. The Grizzlies are expecting 1500 players and supporters from around the world to compete for the Cup, now in its eighth iteration.
Upon signing the memorandum, Jon Glassmeyer, the president of the Bingham Cup Organizing Committee said “The support from USA Rugby will be invaluable. Their commitment to ending homophobia in American rugby will make a difference for GLBTQ athletes across the country and sets an example for other national unions around the world.”