Get Inspired: Making rugby inclusive for all
The Rugby World Cup trophy stopped off at the Sports Wales National Centre in Cardiff recently as part of a 100-day tour across the UK and Ireland. The event, supported by Stonewall Wales, was held to encouraging everyone to get involved in sport. Gay friendly rugby teams were invited to meet the international referee, Nigel Owens and participate in a mini, yet slightly competitive, touch rugby tournament!
Get Inspired went along to meet the teams.
Swansea Vikings, Swansea's first openly gay and inclusive rugby team, saw around 30 players turn up for training within a few weeks of forming, and only four of those had played rugby regularly before.
The club's founder, or 'The Chief' as he's most commonly known, Steven Larcombe, explained that the club "was built on a desire for gay men in Swansea to have their own rugby team, regardless of ability, experience or sexuality." The only other gay inclusive team is in Cardiff.
In just 7 weeks the club recruited 46 new players, established a community of over 180 members, as well as campaigned in a number of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) matters, including sport, equality and inclusiveness.
"I hadn't actually played rugby since school, and its the same for many others in the team so this is pretty new to everyone. Its an amazing achievement to be only the second gay & inclusive team in Wales, the 11th in the United Kingdom and 64th in the World!"
Inclusivity is the core value of rugby
Following on from their recent success at the Biannual European gay-inclusive tournament, the Union Cup, the Cardiff Lions' Gareth Waters and Chairman Christopher Whitton, are amazed with the surge in interest in the last few years.
"We are currently in our 11th year of existence and its growing exponentially. We now have a squad of over 40 players within the club, we play regular fixtures at least once or twice a month, and look forward to sending a team to the Bingham Cup, the equivalent of the Gay Rugby World Cup in Nashville next summer, so there's definitely a big interest in LGBT rugby, not just in Wales but around the world.
"Inclusivity is one of the core values of rugby and were just here to promote that. There's definitely still work to be done but were going the right way!
"Having the Webb Ellis trophy visit Wales based around the whole idea of inclusivity in rugby is a monumental occasion for LGBT sport. Its for everyone, and that's what I've known since I was about 10 and started playing, it doesn't matter what your size, strength, skin colour or sexual orientation, everyone can get involved!
Nigel Owens reiterated how important it is to be yourself in rugby.
"I've done it, as has Gareth Thomas and a lot of other people. Its about encouraging clubs to make the environment as welcoming and safe as possible, and in showing people who are thinking about it, or wondering if they can participate in sport, that they can.
Although a positive role model within Welsh sport, Nigel sometimes get unhappy with people who portray the rugby community as homophobic, and feels that there is a lot of work to do to ensure that rugby is "acceptable and inclusive for all".
"It is a safe environment to be in, and I encourage anyone who is interested to do so."
The biggest challenge
According to Owens, the biggest challenge facing sport, rugby in particular, is what is defined by 'Banter', what is acceptable or not, and feels that the boundary lies with the individual and the team themselves.
"People within the environment need to be aware that what's funny and banterous to one person, may not be to others - just think of what you say, but its important too that we must not lose that sense of humour within the sport. That's the biggest challenge.
If you would like to give Rugby Union a try, take a look at our dedicated guide to get you started.