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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 09:44 GMT 10:44 UK
Gay rugby inspired by 11 September
By Chirag Trivedi
BBC News Online, London

Mark Bingham
Mr Bingham made a telephone call to his mother before the crash
Gay rugby's growing popularity will be highlighted this weekend, with an international tournament in London that has been inspired by the tragic events of 11 September.

The sport has taken off among the gay community in the United States of America largely due to the publicity given to Mark Bingham, an amateur rugby player for one of the country's leading gay and bisexual teams, the San Francisco Fog.

He died on United Airlines flight 93, which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after some of the passengers, including Mr Bingham, fought with hijackers.

He made a last-minute telephone call to his mother before the crash, in which he spoke of a plan to overpower the terrorists.

"He has been lionised by the gay community in the States," said Chris Galley, secretary of the International Gay Rugby Association.

Kings Cross Steelers
At the Steelers all they have to worry about is their game and not what other people or their team-mates think about them
Kings Cross Steelers chairman Sean Robertson
"It allowed people to come into the sport. It has taken off largely due to the name Mark Bingham."

The attention is also helping to promote rugby in general across America, he told BBC News Online.

In 2002, the first international amateur rugby tournament for gays and bisexuals - named the Bingham Cup - was held in San Francisco.

The Fog won that competition beating London's Kings Cross Steelers in the final.

But the Steelers now have the chance for revenge on home turf as the tournament takes place this year in Esher, south-east London, from Saturday.

More than 500 players will take part in the tournament which is supported by United Airlines.

"It is undoubtedly the largest rugby tournament that the gay and lesbian community has known, if not the largest amateur rugby union tournament in the world," said media relations director David King.

'Banter on the pitch'

Although the tournament will be between clubs rather than nations, some teams feel like they will be representing their countries.

Some 27 teams will travel from all over the world, including Australia, where a gay team calling themselves the Pooftas have been playing for some time.

The British Isles has at least four representatives in the competition - the Kings Cross Steelers, Manchester Spartans, Edinburgh Caledonians and Dublin's Emerald Warriors.

Steelers chairman Sean Robertson said: "The club was founded in 1995 as an outlet for gay and bisexual men to play rugby because there was a problem with them joining established clubs.

Sean Robertson
Steelers chairman Sean Robertson is not sure about his side's chances
"At the first training session only six people turned up. The first match was played a year later. Today we have 150 members.

"Other teams' reaction to us has generally been good.

"At first it was a novelty but we are now treated as any other club.

"A lot of our players had been at other [straight] clubs but they were always on their guard.

"At the Steelers all they have to worry about is their game and not what other people or their team-mates think about them.

"There is a bit of banter on the pitch - but you get that if you're gay or not."

Steelers' captain Peter Thompson, 27, admitted he had given up rugby before he found the team because of prejudice.

"I could not take my partner to the game. I could not be myself," he said.

The Bingham Cup takes place at Esher Rugby Football Club on 29 and 30 May.




SEE ALSO:
London hosts gay rugby world cup
19 Feb 04  |  London
The ambassadors of Flight 93
05 Sep 03  |  Americas


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