Sport has sometimes been found wanting when it comes to inclusivity around LGBT+ matters. That changed in substantial fashion and with major corporate backing at the Aviva Stadium yesterday with the launch of the Union Cup.
The IRFU got fully behind the efforts of Union Cup Chairman Richie Fagan to make his ambition to bring Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament to Dublin this summer a reality.
Yesterday was the culmination of years of planning and a concerted attempt to bring major backers on board that began in mid-2018.
Bank of Ireland, Vodafone and Guinness are three familiar names within rugby but mainly at the highest levels of the sport. To see all three united and very well represented, at yesterday’s launch is a testament to the persuasive ability of Fagan and to the importance of inclusivity within Irish business.
Minister Katherine Zappone TD, International referee Nigel Owens and Ireland star Lindsay Peat were also on hand to help launch the two-day festival which will be held at Dublin City University on June 8th and 9th.
Nigel Owens, MBE, the current world record holder for most test matches refereed, will be officiating the final in June. He spoke with feeling yesterday of how he came out as a gay man 14 years ago and how he feared in advance that he would have to make a choice between being openly gay or continuing to referee.
In the end, his fears were misplaced with the sport and those within it accepting him fully for everything he is. If that seems obvious in 2019 it was far from that at the time but progress has been made as evidenced by our having an openly gay Taoiseach and passing legislation to allow for same-sex marriage.
It has been slower in sport though. There remain markedly fewer gay men playing sport at the highest level than national statistics and common sense would tell us was the case.
Is it that sport is just inherently more attractive to heterosexuals. That is ridiculous and so there are clearly barriers still present to those who want to combine sport and their sexuality as one.
The hope is that the Union Cup will be an opportunity to see that both are possible, and a pretty good party as well.
“We are passionately promoting diversity and inclusion in sport,” said Union Cup Chairman and founder of the Emerald Warriors team who will represent Ireland, Richie Fagan.
“We believe that rugby is a game for all. There’s never been a more exciting time in Ireland to host an inclusive, high-level rugby tournament, with a dash of glitter. We are excited to showcase pride in rugby, as Ireland has never seen before.”
“Sport is the lifeblood of Ireland. For players and followers alike it sparks excitement, passion and joy. No-one should be excluded from this,” added a clearly excited Minister Katherine Zappone.
“Sport and Rugby are for everyone. By hosting the Union Cup the Emerald Warriors are leading the way and I am thrilled to see the entire Irish ruby community row in behind them.”
“The inclusion of a dedicated women’s tournament is a very welcome development and the Union Cup is to be congratulated for striving to be even more inclusive. I look forward to two-days of passion and fun this June and wish all who are travelling to Dublin a céad míle fáilte.”
“It takes a lot of looking inside to feel comfortable with who you are,” said Lindsey Peat, winner of an All Ireland in Ladies Football and a star of the Ireland team now in Rugby.
“Equality and diversity are so important. I want it to be seen as normal for my son to have two mums when he goes to school and living an open life through sport as much as every other area of our lives will help to achieve that.”
The support of the brands that are backing the tournament will be an important way of getting the message out as well.
“Bank of Ireland is proud to be an official partner of this year’s Union Cup tournament,” said Sponsorship Manager Gemma Bell.
“As an organisation, our purpose is to enable our customers, colleagues and communities to thrive and in order to do this – it is important to reflect the diversity of our customer base.”
“Bank of Ireland is at the heart of rugby across the island of Ireland and we are looking forward to welcoming over 50 teams from across Europe to DCU for the Union Cup in June.”
“Partnering with the Union Cup allows us to combine two elements of our business that we are immensely proud of; our partnership with Irish Rugby and The Vodafone Ireland LGBT+ Friends Network,” said Vodafone HR Director James Magill.
“This Network is a grassroots, employee-led initiative that aims to inspire, empower and support our LGBT+ colleagues to ensure that everyone at Vodafone Ireland can be at their best both inside and outside of work. We feel that this ethos is absolutely reflected in the ethos of the Union Cup.”
“We have built out an authentic story of our commitment to diversity internally at first and then to our customers. We have worked with Nigel Owens in doing that with our customer base and the connection with Rugby is obviously an important one.”
“Role models within and allies outside the LGBT+ community are important in breaking down barriers. Campaigns like the rainbow Laces and events like the Union Cup create more of a safe space for people to come out and live their lives in full.”
“Since we began as Ireland rugby’s lead partner in 2016 we have always focused on the power of the support from the 6 million people on the island of Ireland through the #TeamOfUs campaign. This very much extends to the Union Cup and it is something we are proud to be a part of.”
“Rugby has an extraordinary capacity to unite, and this tournament celebrates the unique camaraderie and friendship at the heart of the sport,” said Guinness Head of Partnerships Rory Sheridan.
“We are particularly excited that Union Cup Dublin will spotlight inclusivity in the women’s game by hosting the first dedicated women’s tournament, alongside the men’s.”
The three main backers are supported by a gilt-edged cast of other backers with Aer Lingus, Onside Sponsorship, Fáilte Ireland, Kukri and Maples Group.
“We wanted to give the organisers the support they needed to make this happen,” said John Trainor, Founder of Onside Sponsorship who was a strong advocate in bringing together such a strong base of support.
“Rugby prides itself on being an inclusive sport and we are delighted to assist the Emerald Warriors in hosting the Union Cup,” concluded David Keane, Participation Rugby Operations Manager at the IRFU.
“We will support the tournament across all of our digital platforms while assisting with the delivery of a great weekend of rugby. We believe this is an opportunity for everyone in Irish rugby to celebrate diversity and inclusion and underline rugby’s commitment to a sport for all.”
As part of the legacy of hosting the tournament, the organisers will conduct research across Ireland on the LGBT+ community in sport.
In the UK, similar research found that only
17 per cent of LGBT+ individuals are members of a sports club or team. Over half of the community are not active enough to maintain health, significantly above the national average so there is clearly an issue.
The Union Cup is a high profile, high energy way to begin to address that.