NZ Falcons player Karl Wilshier says it’s time we start pushing ourselves forward in the scrum.
I’ve had a complicated relationship with rugby as both a queer man and a player. These days I am as quick to be passionate about opportunities for inclusion in this sport as I am angry when the news highlights a homophobic elite athlete. If recent stories are anything to go by, you might believe that rugby and LGBTQI issues only intersect when ongoing homophobia needs a solution from the top down.
Right now I want to bench that narrative and sub-on another because I believe we’ll win this game ourselves by digging deep and gaining ground.
I don’t mean to minimise the importance of calling out homophobia and holding the powerful to account. This is an absolutely vital kōrero, and organisations such as NZ Rugby are doing good things in service of a more inclusive future in sport. But we don’t have to wait for that future to validate our presence. The game is already yours, dear queer reader, it has been for some time and we are still imprinting ourselves deep into these muddy old fields.
I know rugby can appear to represent things about mainstream Kiwi culture that seems at odds with the more countercultural spirit of our queer community. I once thought of myself as a conscientious objector to this seemingly mandatory pastime. I thought to transform into a full-fledged player was a cosmic joke, but the purpose of it all unfolded in time. I learned I didn’t have to eschew any part of my identity to pass through a perceived barrier, I was invited to bring myself as I am and share radical inclusion with others. Queer rugby players make that inclusion visible, we give ourselves and each other permission to write our entries in the unfolding story of this game.
What does this story look like? Personally, it looks like five years of involvement with the NZ Falcons, an Auckland-based team open to anyone who will carry our mission to bring the LGBTQI community out onto the field. It looks like the Christchurch Heroes, a formidable ally to the cause. It goes as far back as the Wellington Krazy Knights in 1998, the pioneers of inclusive rugby in NZ who handed over newly-fought territory for our teams in the present.
Globally this story looks like 75 active clubs, culminating in the largest amateur rugby union tournament in the world: the Bingham Cup. Our presence is vast, and each team is an opportunity for local queer communities to gather and create moments that positively impact the conditions for future players.
For the Falcons, this story looks like practice on Wednesday evenings. Veterans and newcomers alike join at any time. While the more experienced players will mentor those who are discovering the game, we all aim to bring each other up as players that back each other and wear our identities proudly.
This story looks like our matches on Saturday afternoons. Our supporters give us spirit, and bugger it if they don’t know the rules – they are a part of our wider family. They see us bravely take on the challenges from our opposition, traditionally-formed teams who shake our hands sincerely and bond over drinks at the clubrooms afterwards. Everyone carries these moments in some way out to their community and slightly alters it.
Many people have thought that the frontier of queer inclusion in NZ rugby would look like an All Black coming out. I say don’t wait for them. See yourselves in this arena and drive forward. Get in touch, get involved. Who knows, we could be carrying them there on the way.
The NZ Falcons practice every Wednesday at 6.30pm at Western Springs Park and would love you to join them!
Visit facebook.com/NZFalcons for details.