IN FOCUS: Scotland's Bingham Cup bid
If the names of the Caledonian Thebans and the Bingham Cup are not already familiar to Scottish rugby supporters, they soon will be. But first, a quick lesson in ancient and modern history.
The Thebans, Scotland’s oldest LGBT-inclusive rugby club, is named after the Secret Band of Thebes, an elite military unit in ancient Greece made up of male couples, who ended Spartan domination. The Bingham Cup, more commonly known as the ‘world cup’ of LGBT-inclusive rugby, is named after gay rugby player Mark Bingham who died during the 9/11 attacks in 2001, one of a group of passengers who thwarted hijackers trying to crash United Airlines Flight 93 into a building in Washington DC, causing the plane to crash into a field instead.
The Thebans were formed in 2002, the same year as the first hosting of the now biennial Bingham Cup. The timing is unlikely to have been purely coincidental, with several of the founding Thebans having been inspired by the inaugural hosting in San Francisco.
And twenty years later, the vision of the fledging club’s founders could be rewarded with the tournament coming to Scotland, after the Thebans launched a bid two weeks ago to host the Bingham Cup in July 2022. If successful, the bid would see between 120 and 140 teams from around the world descend on Edinburgh, bringing an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 visitors to Scotland for a sporting and cultural extravaganza.
It is estimated that there will be more than 200 matches to fit into what could be a five-day playing schedule by the time 2022 comes around, although fixtures in tournaments to date have been two halves of 20 minutes at pool and elimination stage, with only the finals - Cup, Shield, Plate, Shield, Vase etc – played over a full 80 minutes. There will also be a women’s team competition, which was included for the first time at last year’s hosting.
It is not the first attempt to lure the competition to Scotland, with Edinburgh having lost out in the bidding for 2018, won by Amsterdam. This time, Scotland’s bid is first on the table, and with no other candidate showing its hand so far, organisers hope that the early commitment will build the momentum needed to be successful this time when the winner is declared in October next year.
“After the announcement, the winning bidder has only one year and eight months to deliver, so the conversations we need to have about a winning bid have to start now,” says Caledonian Thebans chairman Luke Fenton.
“We’re looking at several sites in Edinburgh at the moment, and we hope that, with Scottish Rugby, we can build something that looks fantastic.
“We have to demonstrate in our bid that we can accommodate an increase in size of the tournament, so we also need to think about a players’ village, because we will need to house so many visitors.
“And as well as the rugby schedule, we also need to look at the social and cultural aspects of our bid. People will want to experience more than rugby if they are coming from the other side of the world to take part. They will be looking to have a good time here, and we also want to explore opportunities for them to see more of Scotland, beyond Edinburgh.”
At the official launch of Scotland’s bid, Fenton cited Scotland’s reputation for “inclusiveness, openness, and acceptance” as a strong factor in the local organisers’ favour. He acknowledges that homophobia still exists, but says that it is now very rare for his club to come across prejudice in the sport.
“The wider rugby community is on the whole absolutely fantastic about inclusive rugby, and Scottish Rugby has been nothing but supportive.
“I would say that rugby is the most inclusive sport in the world, but it has taken time to get there. Rugby can be hyper masculine, testosterone-fuelled, and aggressive. It’s not hard to see how intimidating that can be for some people in a team environment.
“The turning point was probably when Gareth Thomas came out. For such a high profile international player to feel comfortable about sharing his life in that way was a huge step forwards.
“The rugby community just doesn’t tolerate homophobia any longer. The only place we tend to see it now is online. But we do exist in a free society, the law is on our side, and we have to focus on creating an environment for players who might otherwise not want to get involved in rugby.”
Thebans appear to be doing just that from their Roseburn base, with over 50 registered players, a first XV competing in Tennent’s East Reserve League Division 3, and the beginnings of a second XV development team. Players are gay, bisexual, transgender and straight, with the latter often consisting of those who want a move away from the traditional rugby environment.
“Many other rugby clubs are also inclusive, but for us, it is first and foremost what we are all about,” says Fenton. “And you will probably find that we are one of the busiest rugby clubs in Edinburgh. We have a fixture most Saturdays, and we also take part in various tournaments which promote gay or inclusive rugby. We are never short of someone to play against.
“Rugby has made big strides to ensure the sport is inclusive. Bringing the Bingham Cup here would be another massive step forward in Scotland.”
Donald Walker offers a guest perspective as a former Sports Editor and then Deputy Editor of The Scotsman from 1998 to 2019 and is writing a series on rugby.