LGBT+ rugby players have talked about the prejudice they face from other teams – and how all that changes when they play well.
The Birmingham Bulls RFC is preparing to host a small army of burly gay and bi rugby lads in 2021. The Union Cup contest will bring together 60 teams from 18 countries across Europe in Birmingham, in the Midlands of England.
Now they’ve spoken to the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast about their battle to overcome prejudice in the sport.
Alistair Burford, recalled one team saying: ‘We’re not losing to a bunch of poofs.’
However he added: ‘It hurt in a way. But actually it spurred me on to think “we’re just as good at sport, it doesn’t matter about our sexuality”.
‘The nice thing about those games is that on the pitch it can be all agro. But afterwards you can go for a drink and change people’s minds of what gay rugby is, or how gay people play rugby, and just challenging them on things.
‘Once all the sport has been put aside and you can just talk to them.’
‘Afterwards they’re like “well played lads”’
Meanwhile fellow team member David Cumpston said the abuse was worst when they first started playing. Although it still happens, things are gradually improving, he said:
‘It is sad, but you think most of the people who use that language and they don’t actually mean it. You see them later in the bar and they’re like “well played lads”.
‘You can be a different person on the pitch and there can be a slip of the tongue.
‘Some people don’t realise how offensive that language is. It’s what our clubs are here for, educating and changing people’s mind-sets about what gay guys and women and trans people are all about. When we play rugby we are just rugby players.’
The Union Cup has been running every two years since 2005. So far Montpellier, Copenhagen, London, Amsterdam, Bristol, Brussels, Madrid and Dublin have hosted.
The 2019 tournament in the Irish capital, Dublin, saw record crowds. Birmingham hopes to build on that success when it hosts from 30 April to 2 May 2021.
The Bulls are promising an inclusive tournament for all ‘irrespective of creed, colour, sexuality, gender or even if they’ve been to a rugby match before’.