The members of the Ottawa Wolves rugby team will be lacing up their boots in Sydney, Australia, as they take part in an international LGBT rugby tournament. The Bingham Cup, which brings rugby teams from more than 15 countries together to celebrate diversity in sport, is played over three days from Aug 29 to 31. LGBT-inclusive teams from around the world compete for the trophy, playing a series of pool games to determine divisions and moving on to the quarter-finals before the winning teams face off.
The tournament is named for Mark Bingham, a player for the San Francisco Fog RFC who died in the Sept 11 attacks. Bingham was one of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 who worked to overcome the hijackers.
The week-long tournament leaves plenty of time for teams to get to know each other and engage in the warm camaraderie players say the sport of rugby is known for, with social events including meet-and-greets, bar nights and socials being held on and around Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach.
“An integral part of rugby is to socialize with the other team after you’ve finished playing with them,” says Wolves player Miguel Oliver. “Not only tackling the hell out of them, but going out for a drink with them afterwards.”
This will be the Wolves’ third time participating in the tournament, which happens biennially and was last held in Manchester, England. The team has been holding fundraising events to help offset travel costs, including parties with the Queer Mafia and monthly Rugbeer nights at the Centretown Pub. A bursary program also exists to help players with expenses.
For Oliver, who plays wing position, it will be his first time travelling overseas to play rugby. He has always participated in team sports but says that as an openly gay man he often felt like the odd one out. “I’m really looking forward to playing in a tournament with fellow gay teammates, but also with fellow gay teams . . . We’re all going to be a big group of the same kind of people.”
“What really attracted me to the rugby team was that sense of brotherhood and that sense of brothers-in-arms, friends, those people you practise with and break bones with.”
It’s the physicality of the game that helps form bonds between players on and off the field. “It’s one of the sports that is just — everyone is so friendly,” says Wolves forward Daniel Ivan Harris, who has been with the team since 2008.
Harris was recently named Mr Rubber Ottawa and will miss the Capital Pride parade to participate in the tournament. “After every game we go to the bar and just share stories about how injured we are by the other players.” There’s a saying in rugby, he adds: “Soccer is a gentleman’s sport played by hooligans. Rugby is a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen.”
Timothy Whalen, who plays lock position, says the friendly atmosphere and bonds between players carry over from previous tournaments. “Hearing about some of the other teams and everything, this is already an established community.”
The tournament has grown significantly since it was first played in 2002, he says. “It started with a couple of gay rugby teams in the States and it just kept on growing and growing, and now it’s a worldwide tournament. The whole thing is just about inclusivity, playing the sport [and] having fun.”
The pace of the tournament will be breakneck, with eight games being held in 24 hours. The games will be 40 minutes long instead of the usual 80 minutes to fit into a two-day time frame.
Though the tournament is for LGBT-identified teams, Whalen says that when it comes to the game, sexuality takes a back seat. “If you’re brave enough to lace your boots up, then people don’t even look at your sexuality. That’s second to it all.” Still, the chance to play against other gay teams is a rare opportunity for the Wolves. “The whole regular season in Ottawa we don’t play other gay teams. We play straight teams.”
Whalen, Oliver and Harris all say they’re optimistic about the team’s chances of bringing home a victory. They’ve been playing against higher-division teams all year in preparation, Whalen says, and he’s hoping it will give them an advantage. “While we haven’t won a regular game all season, it’s actually prepared us really well to go in the Bingham Cup, where we’ll play more toward our level.”
“It’s not about being gay,” he adds. “It’s about just lacing up, having fun, playing the game, playing hard, and hopefully we’ll bring back some hardware.”