The Power of the World Cup of Gay Rugby, the Bingham Cup

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The immensity and gravitas of competing in the world cup of gay rugby – the biennial Bingham Cup – is something that didn’t truly hit me until I was coming off the pitch following my first match at my first ever Bingham Cup in Amsterdam this past summer. Knowing that my team and I would be competing in five to six more matches in what the Guinness Book of World Records classified as the largest rugby union tournament in the world is incredibly powerful. Especially, because the tournament is only played by LGBTQ and LGBTQ-inclusive clubs who battle homophobia and negative stereotypes of the LGBTQ community every time they step foot on a pitch. And, as of October 4, 2018, it has been confirmed that Ottawa, Canada will host the tenth Bingham Cup in 2020.

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At the suggestion of former Australian bobsledder and life-long rugby player, Simon Dunn, I joined the Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club in late August of 2016. I was complaining about not being able to find the gay community that media had promised me, and I was feeling isolated and lonely in New York City. Without any real sport experience and despite the nagging fear that I would be laughed off the field and made to feel unwelcome because I wasn’t and had never been sporty, I decided to heed his advice. Those fears couldn’t have been more wrong, and Dunn’s own sentiments about the importance of the Bingham Cup highlight that. “As someone who’s played and competed in sport on many levels, I know that the sporting world is often unwelcoming and a scary place for gay men,” says Dunn. “Inclusive tournaments, like the Bingham Cup, give them the opportunity to feel welcome within the sporting environment.”

In October 2016, International Gay Rugby, which is the larger umbrella organization for the world's gay and inclusive rugby clubs, announced that Bingham Cup 2018 would be held in Amsterdam. Despite training to compete in matches against teams in the Empire Rugby Football Union Geographical Union – the governing body for the Gotham Knight’s local matches – my mind was always thinking ahead to competing against other gay and LGBTQ-friendly teams from all over the world at the Bingham Cup. So, when I finally got to Amsterdam, laced up my rugby boots (cleats in American English), and took to the field with my team, it was a culmination of a lot of sweat, some bumps and bruises, and immeasurable but worthwhile effort. I was overcome with emotion, and I wept as we left the field. And this process repeated itself after every game. During those two years of preparation, gay rugby and the Gotham Knights taught me who I was, what I was capable of, and playing rugby in Amsterdam for the Bingham Cup offered deeply moving moments of catharsis.

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The knowledge that every tackle and every try scored at the Bingham Cup stands to dispel negative stereotypes about the LGBT community and is a stepping stone to LGBTQ-inclusive societies the world over creates a euphoria all of its own. This feeling is only magnified by the fact that, while in Amsterdam, I was surrounded by roughly 1,619 other rugby players who were welcoming and the living embodiment of the spirit of inclusivity that the larger intentional gay ruby community inspires. “Rugby is the greatest game because it’s for everyone – all sizes and abilities, and, with IGR, all sexualities as well” says Colby Jansen, bisexual porn performer and team member for the World Barbarians.

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Experiencing the Bingham Cup for yourself is surreal. In many ways, it felt like a vacation from the real world. At the hotels, when visiting the bars on Reguliersdwarsstraat, and even when walking around the city itself, one never felt alone. There were always friends from other teams around, creating in reality the utopic version of the LGBTQ community for a handful of days. Then you get to add in this massive tournament, which is only growing, on top of all of that. It’s mind blowing, and something people who have experienced it before enjoy coming back to. “What’s really impressed me has been the improvement of the overall competition level of the tournament,” says Jansen, who has played in multiple Bingham Cups in addition to other rugby tournaments. “Guys are getting more experienced and have a better understanding of the game, and that’s great to see.”

Named for Mark Kendall Bingham, the Bingham Cup celebrates Bingham as an athlete, an American hero, a gay man, and honors his lasting legacy. Bingham was a member of the gay-inclusive rugby team the San Francisco Fog and was in talks with his East Coast friends about setting up a New York City team when he lost his life when he and others attempted to retake United Flight 93 from hijackers on September 11, 2001. “For me, the Bingham Cup is very important because I get a chance to meet a whole bunch of new faces, and everyone seems to know Mark’s story,” says Alice Hoagland, Bingham’s Mother. “But, as I come to these Bingham Cups every other year, I realize that the Bingham Cup is taking on a new meaning. It’s growing. Now, the emphasis is on women’s participation in rugby.” This facet of the Bingham Cup was made reality in Amsterdam when four women’s team competed for the first time at the tournament. “That means that not just gay men are going to be benefitted by the life of Mark Bingham, but also that Mark is reaching out to the women in the LGBT community,” adds Hoagland. “And, that makes me very happy.”

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Away from the biennial tournament, IGR teams are taking in people from all walks of life and teaching them the sport of rugby. Some recruits have experience with the sport already. Others have experience playing other team sports. Some – like me – can only list something like Marching Band in high school as their previous athletic experience. And others have never played any kind of sport before. No matter where you are in your life or what your fitness level is, you can join an IGR affiliated team and start building towards competing in a Bingham Cup. Now that Ottawa has been announced as the host city for Bingham Cup 2020, there’s no time like the present to give rugby a try.

Follow Gotham Knights Rugby on Instagram here.

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