The Bingham Cup kicks off in Sydney today. It’s the rugby competition for gay rugby teams from around the world, held every two years. It’s a bit like a Golden Oldies tournament – maybe more about participating and socialising than the heights of skill – but played by fit young people.
This year a New Zealand team – the Falcons – will make its first appearance. They won’t win it, but at least they’ll be there.
Back in May 2011 I wrote at Road to Redemption about the Cup, its origins and its importance:
Regular readers will know that my core schtick is that sport is fascinating and important because it is embodied culture: that it brings to life ethics and aesthetics in a way beyond mere words. Therefore, it matters. A lot.
Therefore, also, how we have thought about and practiced sport in the past is a window into observing how our culture has evolved, often through a tense dialectic. To read old rugby stories in 2011 is to keep tripping over those deep deep assumptions about ‘race’ and sexuality and alcohol and violence that the writers of the times only dimly glimpsed themselves.
(And it should be enough, too, to inject some humility into considering how my own ‘enlightened’ ideas might be perceived in, say, 2051.)
Regular readers will also know that I think professionalism has been generally positive for sport in general, and rugby in particular. And one of the ways it helps is that a professional sport will not survive economically if it puts up with crap on or off the field. The audiences and advertisers will flee.
And now, belatedly, male professional sports are inching towards addressing their attitudes towards homosexuality. (Female sports were forced to deal with it back when Martina Navratilova chose to treat it like one of her forehand cross-court winners: the big Don’t Argue. They didn’t. We don’t. And now, who cares?)
One of the bigger stories in US sport last week was that the San Francisco Giants baseball team will make a video for the It Gets Better campaign supporting LGBT youth against harassment and bullying.
Way back in 1995 Ian Roberts was the first Aussie rugby league star to come out publicly, but proper rugby seems to be a bit slow. Gareth Thomas, a former Welsh rugby captain, came out in 2009, and straight Ben Cohen, a current England player, overtly plays up to his numerous gay fans.
There is a gay rugby ‘world cup’ played every two years, and not only has New Zealand never won it, we’ve never even entered a team. It’s called the Bingham Cup, named after Mark Bingham, a UC Berkeley rugby star, who went on to co-found a New York rugby team. He was one of the group of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 on 11 September 2001 who decided to fight back against the hijackers.
By contrast, all bloody William Webb Ellis Trophy did was pick up a ball.
A stellar bunch of Aussie sports people have signed up to be Ambassadors for the event, including John Eales, Nick Farr-Jones, Greg Inglis, David Pocock and Adam Ashley-Cooper.