When most of us think about rugby, we probably imagine huge, sweaty men in shorts crashing into each other at high velocities as they fight over a ball . . . and then we probably go have some private time. The game is a little bit rough-and-tumble, but players can also create an incredibly welcoming community with a real sense of camaraderie.
Such has been the case with the Ottawa Wolves, the city’s first LGBT-friendly rugby team. “What I really like about the club is that we are gay friendly, however we have a lot of people who don’t identify as gay or lesbian and it’s because we spend a lot of time developing people brand new to the sport,” says Johnny Festarini, the team’s captain and Director of Communications. “I think we’ve really kind of created this environment where people just feel comfortable being themselves, whoever they are and wherever they come from.”
Being an LGBT-friendly team has opened up unique opportunities for the Wolves – they’re part of the International Gay Rugby Association and Board, and have had the opportunity to travel internationally to play. “I think some people wouldn’t give it a shot if there wasn’t [an LGBT team],” says Festarini. “I think it’s just human nature to be attracted to people who have similar interests and lifestyles as you.”
The next big thing for the Wolves is the Beaver Bowl, named for Canada’s industrious national animal, which will see the team hosting other LGBT clubs from around North America for a tournament in Brewer Park. “We’re just looking for a fun day of rugby,” Festarini says.
The tournament coincides with Capital Pride festivities, and the Wolves have a number of events planned around both. First up is Jocks ‘n Socks, Aug 17 at Babylon Nightclub. The event is a perennial favourite at which Wolves players model and then auction off their jock straps to support the team. The players will also perform some sexy dance numbers. “We just like to have fun with it,” says Festarini. “We like to entertain the crowd.”
Keeping the Pride spirit, the team will host a meet-and-greet in full sports gear at the Centretown Pub on Aug 23. Look for strapping rugby players in full kit flipping burgers and mingling with patrons. The following day is the tournament, and the day after that the Wolves and members of visiting teams will march in the Pride Parade. “We love that we’re doing stuff for pride,” says Festarini. “And we’re super excited that we’ve aligned the Beaver Bowl with it.”