Players from around the world took part in a huge training session in Sydney Wednesday in the lead-up to the Bingham Cup, the world cup of gay rugby. As a way of showing their support for ending homophobia in sports, players and coaches from Australia’s national team, the Wallabies, and Sydney’s state team, the NSW Waratahs, led the session. It was a sweaty and muddy spectacle as 400 players from the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Amsterdam, New Zealand, and other countries took part in the two-hour session on tackling, defending and passing the ball.
The Bingham Cup, which begins in Sydney this Friday, is a grueling tournament of intense rugby with 24 teams playing six games over three days. Almost 1000 players and supporters representing 30 gay and inclusive rugby clubs from 15 countries will be in Australia for the Biennial event, named after 9/11 hero Mark Bingham. The event is one of the largest 15-a-side rugby tournaments in the world. While most participants are gay, in the spirit of inclusivity, many teams also field straight players.
Andrew Blades was a very successful Australian player and is the current assistant coach of the national team, the Wallabies. He helped organize the training session.
“We wanted to give them all drills and skills they can take away with them and practice in the future as they go forward with their rugby careers,” Blades said. “We want everyone to feel like they’ve got a place in rugby, you don’t want anyone to feel like they’re excluded. I hope that over time players in this tournament will feel like that they can play on any team.”
The Bingham Cup is currently held by the event hosts, the Sydney Convicts. However, one of the strong contenders to win the cup when the games begin is London’s Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby team.
Like many athletes taking part in the tournament, the Steeler’s first grade team captain, Chris Buckmaster, says he used to believe being gay and playing a tough sport was an impossible combination.
“I grew up in a rugby dominated society where being gay was not even an option, let alone being gay and actually playing competitive sport. This led me to believe that I could not possibly actually be gay myself, given I excelled in sport and was also the school prefect at a private all boys school,” Buckmaster said. “Watching the Kings Cross Steelers trying to demolish each other at my first training session obviously challenged every misconception I had about myself and gay people. I was very surprised by the high level of rugby and focus on playing the game.”
There is intense rivalry among the international gay teams, particularly the gay meccas, Sydney, London, New York, and San Francisco, as well as among the three Australian teams from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Interestingly, the Brisbane Hustlers, from the capital of Australia’s tropical Queensland state, beat Sydney earlier this year at the Australian Gay Rugby championship. The Hustlers are considered the team to watch closely during the tournament.
San Francisco team’s Dany Semreth isn’t worried about the Hustlers or any of the other teams. He’s expecting the Fog, which is Mark Bingham’s original rugby team, to win the tournament.
“Many people may assume that a bunch of gay guys holding a rugby tournament is just an excuse to have big party with a rugby theme, but nothing could be further from the truth,” said Samreth, Captain of the San Francisco Fog RFC. The San Francisco Fog RFC hosted the first Bingham Cup in 2002, after Mark’s death on Flight 93, which he helped crash into the fields of Pennsylvania. “We have been training very hard over the last two years and have received strong support from high level athletes and coaches. We’re very focused on winning our third Bingham Cup and bringing it back to San Francisco where the tournament began.”
Many of the teams arrived in Sydney earlier this week and have been enjoying the city, including attending drinks at the Opera House bar, watching a special theatre screening of The Rugby Player (Mark Bingham documentary) and going on a tour of the city led by one of Australia’s most popular drag queens, Maxi Shield.
The Bingham Cup Grand Finals can be heard live online around the world. Colorful and experienced sport commentators will bring you all the action from 11-5 p.m., Australian Eastern Standard Time. You can access the live stream here.