3 min

How one gay Toronto rugby team is making sport more inclusive

Muddy York’s rugby club focuses on camaraderie and team-building

Credit: Courtesy Dave Scrivener

Kevan Hannah is one of Muddy York’s newest members. While he grew up competing in individual sports like swimming and fencing, he never played on a team sport and harboured strong reservations over attending the team’s pre-season practices that are open to the public to join.

“I was nervous as hell. I was actually aware of Muddy York’s open practice back in January and I was like, ‘yeah, I’m going to go to that, I’m going to go to that.’ And I kind of chickened out because I was intimidated for a few reasons,” Hannah says. “One is that I didn’t know what to expect from a rugby team. I expected it to be really rough, maybe a bit machismo and I wasn’t sure if I’d fit in or not.”

By the time Muddy York held its next open clinic in June for potential members, Hannah had steeled his nerves.

“By the end of that practice, when everyone was going out for drinks, I fully felt that I was already part of the team, having known all these guys for maybe three hours,” Hannah says. “They were extremely welcoming, really went out of their way to make me feel I was just as much welcome and part of things as people who had been playing for years.”

The Toronto Muddy York rugby club has been welcoming cisgender gay men, trans men and their allies to participate and compete in the team sport since 2003. The team prides itself on its diverse membership and actively encourages members of all skill levels and body types to participate in the club.

Muddy York competes against other teams within the Toronto Rugby Union and hosts its annual Beaver Bowl tournament for both local teams and teams from the International Gay Rugby Association.

Toronto Muddy York in a pre-game cheer at the 2016 Beaver Bowl.
Dave Scrivener

The club also competes internationally in the bi-annual Bingham Cup, one of the world’s largest rugby tournaments. The Bingham Cup is hosted in rotating cities across the globe, including New York, London and Sydney. Muddy York is currently raising funds to compete in 2018’s Bingham Cup in Amsterdam.

One of the draws for many Muddy York members is the social aspect of the club. The team often has post-practice drinks at Pegasus on Church, the team’s main watering hole, and there are formal and informal social activities like team fundraisers and karaoke nights year round.

Jesse Miller recently moved to Toronto and says he joined Muddy York as a way to connect with the community, build confidence and meet new people in the city.

“I didn’t really have that many people I knew in Toronto in the first place, so I was pretty nervous,” Miller says.

Like Hannah, he says he felt instantly at home. “Even by the end of the practice, I knew for sure that I wanted to play on the team,” he says. “I felt completely included, and like I definitely belonged on the team, and the guys made me feel completely welcome.”

Since its formation, Muddy York has welcomed queer and trans men of all backgrounds. It also encourages participation from queer-friendly straight men. The club fosters a supportive and non-judgmental environment for its members and focuses as much on camaraderie and team-building as it does on the sport of rugby.

Omar Aljebouri is the president of Muddy York and says players on the team are quick to learn the ropes.

“I still remember my first practice with Muddy York and it was really transformative,” Aljebouri recalls. “You just walk into the gym and suddenly all these people you’ve never met before are so friendly and they want you to be a part of the team and they want to show you the sport.”

The team, which has approximately 60 members, is open to players of all skill levels and hopes to continue to expand its membership.

“Everyone understands that 75 percent of the guys joining the team have probably never played the sport before,” Aljebouri says “Keeping that in mind, all these barriers that are embedded in people’s minds are all broken down, and people are finally themselves so they can comfortably learn and play. People actually grow very fast within an environment like that.”