Simon Dunn pays tribute to the man who has changed the lives of gay sportsmen around the world.
This week forty-two rugby clubs from all around the world will head to Nashville, Tennessee for the bi-annual rugby tournament, The Bingham Cup. In case you didn’t know, this isn’t your regular rugby tournament, nor are these your regular rugby clubs. Why, because these teams will be mostly made up of gay men, all coming together for the love of rugby.
The teams will play six gruelling games over three days for their chance to win what is considered the World Cup of inclusive rugby. But that’s not all. Alongside the actual tournament itself there are the numerous social outings, insuring this is a week not to be missed by any gay rugby fan.
But let’s take a step back for a minute. The ‘world cup’ of inclusive rugby was named after Mark Bingham. Now you may recognise the name, as Mark was a passenger aboard United Airlines flight 93, one of the planes that was hijacked on 9/11 2001. In fact, he’s believed to have been one of the passengers who tried to retake the plane from the hijackers, and led the effort that saw the plane crash in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as opposed to its supposed target, The White House.
Mark was also fundamental in the creation of the San Francisco Fog Rugby Club and Gotham Knights (New York). San Francisco Fog was one of the first clubs in world to be classified as an inclusive team’ – meaning all players are welcome regardless of their sexuality, gender, race or HIV status. Unfortunately, many aspects of our lives are segregated for those exact reasons.
In an email to the San Francisco Fog team shortly after their acceptance into their local union, Mark wrote, ‘We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play sports, but never felt good enough or strong enough. More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good as they are. Good rugby players. Good partiers. Good sports. Good men.’
In his honour the Fog has set up a biannual tournament for inclusive teams from throughout the world called the Bingham Cup. You see rugby has always been considered a hyper masculine sport and like myself, society has led many of us to believe that a gay man has no place on the rugby field. Mark’s vision and belief was to show people that this simply is not the case.
At the time of Mark Bingham’s tragic death, only six gay and inclusive rugby clubs existed worldwide. Today there are more than 50 who fall under this banner and are part of International Gay Rugby Association and Board.
My club, the Sydney Convicts will be hungry to defend their title as the Bingham Cup premiers and hopefully take out a third consecutive tournament. I see the event as a massive collection of gay men who play rugby and are just like me – and we get to celebrate each other’s highs and lows as well as remember how far we’ve come since its inception. I think it is always important to recognise the lengths our community has come over the past few decades – from segregation to integration and acceptance.
Mark will never know the profound effect he has had on so many lives, simply by doing what loves. But he is part of the reason why the Sydney Convicts are so successful. He is part of the reason I was able to return to the sport I love after years on the sideline when I thought rugby was not a sport for me. He is part of the reason why I am finally happy being a gay man. Having that clarity and that acceptance of myself allows me to devote my time into the things that I love: rugby and hopefully earning my place on the Australian Olympic Bobsleigh team.
Mark’s legacy will have ripples for generations of young gay men in being comfortable in who they are. I lament that I am never able to tell Mark the profound impact he has had on my life and so many others – but I want to ensure that his memory will never be forgotten.
As I run out onto the field in my third Bingham Cup tournament not only will Mark be in the back of my mind, I’m certain he’ll be right there beside me. On behalf of myself and everyone else – thank you Mark. Now let’s play some rugby!
UPDATE: Simon has been playing rugby in Nashville, with his team the Sydney Convicts. And look, in between games, he’s had a rub down to ease those aching muscles.