Why would anyone want to play rugby?
In all honesty, that’s a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly over the last five years. As the season goes on, the temperature drops, fatigue (and rain) sets in and the bruising starts to accumulate. I inevitably start to think about whether this will be the year I throw it all in and do something that isn’t frequently wet, cold and brutal.
Five years ago, the then-head of the Victorian Rugby Union told Ben Lancken, the founder of the Chargers, that the team would never succeed in Melbourne. He was completely wrong. Not only are the Chargers going strong—we play with two full squads, one of which is third on the ladder, and we’re sending 50 people to play in the gay world cup in two months’ time—we’ve had an astonishing amount of support from the Melbourne community.
I don’t just mean the gay community and allies, although their support has been absolutely essential, but the wider community too. Adam Freier, an ex-Wallaby, plays with us. Oneata Schwalger, a current Wallaroo, and Luke Burgess, another ex-Wallaby and current Melbourne Rebels player have generously given their time on and off the field to help us. We’ve appeared in newspapers and on TV.
[Image] The Chargers have received plenty of support in Melbourne
In part, I think some of the reason we’ve attracted this attention is novelty. The idea of fags playing a man’s game breaks the stereotype. But I think a larger reason—something I’ve had close to my core since that unpromising day five years ago when I first touched a rugby ball—is that they believe in what the Chargers stand for.
A rugby club is not just a sports team. It’s a community of people bonded together by mutual hard work and shared experience. Even today, a lot of gay and trans men lack diverse communities in which they can relax and be themselves. Sport is particularly isolating; at school, the jocks are often the ones bullying them, so why would you want to keep playing sport with the people who make your life miserable?
We have tried hard to make the Chargers a community where people can be themselves and want to come and join their friends, even in freezing rain. We’re not perfect, I will admit. The rules of the VRU restrict who can play on our team, for example, so while women can join the club, they can’t play.
Sometimes, the way we’re portrayed or portray ourselves isn’t what it should be. The Herald Sun made a big deal about Adam Freier’s heterosexuality when he first played for us, and called us a gay team instead of an inclusive team. But we do the best we can to make the club an engaging, welcoming and challenging experience for as broad a group of people as we can. You don’t have to be straight-acting – you just have to look at us to see the full range of that spectrum. All you have to do is want to play rugby: gay, straight, trans or otherwise.