Ottawa’s only gay rugby team placed third in its division at the world championships of gay and inclusive rugby teams. The tournament was held in Manchester, England, from June 1 to 3, though players say it was about more than winning or losing.
The Ottawa Wolves claimed the Hoagland Tribute Cup consolation prize at the sixth biennial Bingham Cup, the largest men’s 15-aside rugby tournament outside of the International Rugby Board World Cup.
“Prizes aside, it was rewarding because we got to see us come together and just play excellent rugby,” says Ottawa Wolves president Johnny Festarini.
“A lot of our guys described it as a ‘life experience.’ It was transforming, not just for individuals, but for the club as well, to be able to compete with like-minded teams at a skill level that’s similar to ours.”
There were more than 30 clubs and a thousand players from 15 countries registered in this year’s Bingham Cup, a big increase from the eight teams that competed the first year the tournament was held, in 2002 in San Francisco. The tournament was named after Mark Bingham, a former Berkeley rugby star who had played for the San Francisco Fog and died onboard United Airlines Flight 93 in 2001. At the time of his death, there were eight gay-inclusive rugby clubs worldwide, and he was helping to create more.
There have been six Bingham Cups held since, and though the Ottawa Wolves also competed at the 2010 world championships in Minneapolis, for many players this was their first overseas tournament.
“It changed things for a lot of us,” says team member John Racine, who started playing last year. “Being new to the sport, sometimes you wonder if you can really call yourself a rugby player. And we all came out after three days of hard play feeling like a full-fledged rugby team.”
The Ottawa Wolves Rugby Football Club was founded in 2008 to promote and encourage the participation of those who have traditionally been under-represented in the game. The team is predominantly gay but diverse in makeup and inclusive of everyone.
As one of only two Canadian teams taking part in the Bingham Cup, the Wolves were proud to have kept their chins up despite several losses, injuries and inclement weather. They say they even received kudos from other clubs on their high team spirit.
“You’re one man in this 15-man machine, and we all have to come together and execute it well,” Festarini says.
“It’s not enough for just one of us to come out and be a strong player; we all have to do it. I think we did that really well, and as the weekend progressed the more we felt that and realized that.”
The team is looking forward to bringing that energy back to Ottawa, where they will continue training and start fundraising for the next Bingham Cup, in 2014.