In the March 22nd episode of BBC Radio’s “Rugby Union Weekly”, the spotlight was on two members of the Manchester Village Spartans – discussing how our LGBT+ rugby club continues to make waves in the world of sport.
Club Chair, Gareth, and player, Cameron took to the airwaves at the BBC in Manchester, sharing their experiences and opinions with the broadcasters.
The dialogue cast a light on the club’s role in the “Try For Change” campaign initiated by England Rugby and Comic Relied. Our mission? To inspire greater participation in rugby and foster cohesion between the local gay community and the larger society in Manchester.
The Spartans’ story began in the late 1990s. Emerging as a trailblazer for LGBT sports, the Spartans were initially established as a safe space for gay and bisexual men to discover and enjoy rugby union. Through a lively display of unity and acceptance on the rugby pitch, the club defies societal norms and challenges stereotypes.
The Spartans’ quest is more than a game of rugby; it is a battle against the mental and physical health disparities often reported within the gay and bisexual male community. Gareth emphasised that the club’s primary objective is to reverse these statistics. By fostering a welcoming environment for rugby, the Spartans are, quite literally, taking the bull by the horns.
On the other hand, Cameron’s journey paints a different, yet equally important, picture. Initially, rugby held no appeal for him during his school years. But the Spartans, with their inclusive ethos, provided him with a nurturing environment. As a result, Cameron now thrives on the rugby field, his burgeoning confidence echoing the transformative power of acceptance and camaraderie in sport.
Yet, the shadow of homophobia, albeit receding, persists within the world of grassroots rugby. Gareth conceded that the Spartans often encounter it more off the pitch than on, a stark reminder of the lingering prejudices within society. Nevertheless, they remain resolute, standing tall as symbols of resilience and change.
In an ideal world, the existence of predominantly LGBTQ+ teams like the Spartans may seem paradoxical. Yet, as Gareth eloquently put it, their existence echoes teams like London Welsh or London Irish, established for particular communities, providing a sense of belonging.
Earlier this year, homophobic comments from Matthew Bastereau sent shockwaves through the rugby world. For the Spartans, such slurs serve as stark reminders of the work still to be done. Education and awareness, they believe, are paramount in eradicating such behaviour.
The strides made by rugby in accepting the LGBTQ+ community have set a precedent for societal advancements. Gareth believes that rugby has been ahead of the curve, setting a beacon for other sports to follow.
In conclusion, the Spartans’ pioneering role in inclusive rugby has borne fruit. Their story of increased confidence, improved mental and physical health, and greater participation in sport among marginalised communities is an inspiration. Their commitment to the “Try For Change” campaign will undoubtedly inspire more individuals, regardless of their sexuality, to embrace the sport of rugby.
The journey of inclusivity is an ongoing one, and clubs like the Manchester Village Spartans are at the forefront. Their efforts are a clarion call for others to follow, both within the sporting world and beyond.
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Listen to the show HERE