RUGBY is the most physical of games, but one team is making sure egg-shaped ideas of who should play it are kicked into touch.
Cardiff Lions RFC, Wales’s first and only inclusive rugby club, are celebrating their 11th birthday with a game against local rivals Bristol Bisons on Saturday. The team formed in 2004 and at the time, was only the fourth LGBT-friendly team in the UK. There are now around 10 inclusive clubs.
The Lions have a good relationship with the LGBT-rights lobby group, Stonewall, and the WRU. They are working side by side with these organisations to increase rugby participation in the LGBT community, and recently donated £100 to the Terrence Higgins Trust, an HIV charity.
Cardiff Lions club chairman, Christopher Whitton, said: “We were lucky enough to win the Stonewall Sports Award in 2013, after being nominated against the likes of Arsenal FC and Claire Balding. That was around our work in getting gay and bisexual men back into sport.
“The WRU is also really keen on tackling homophobia within rugby, and they recognise our sevens tournament.
“There is constant interest in the club about joining. I kind of lost interest in school and came back to rugby when I moved to Cardiff.”
The sevens tournament Cardiff Lions organise is called the Enfys 7s. They invite LGBT-friendly teams to come to Cardiff to play in the competition, which also features non-gay teams, like South Wales Fire and Rescue’s side.
Not content with changing attitudes towards gay participation in sport, the Lions have also been successful on the pitch. They attended their first Union Cup in Montpellier in 2005, and have played in the biennial competition ever since.
The only exception was the 2011 competition, because the club had folded for a short time. But the reformed Lions returned from the 2013 Union Cup in Bristol as Plate winners.
The club has connections locally with other rugby clubs and sponsors. This is illustrated by the fact they usually play their Saturday fixtures at the Cardiff Harlequins ground in Whitchurch.
Because of the small number of LGBT-friendly Rugby teams the Lions can play against, they often travel to cities as far away as Edinburgh for games. Their sponsors, Eagle and Wow bar, are crucial in making it feasible to travel so far, although the players also help out – with £20-a-quarter fees and economical car-sharing arrangements.
Mr Whitton said: “Cardiff Harlequins have been very helpful since 2012. We train up there on a Tuesday, and our guys are also able to train with their third team and get access to their facilities.
“The bars have also been really helpful this season. Most of the guys will try and fill a car, and split the cost between those that are in that vehicle. We have a good relationship with the other teams as well and we try to crash on sofas to keep costs as low as possible.”
Cardiff Lions promote tolerance of rugby ability and age as much as they do other kinds of tolerance. Like many amateur sports sides, player age’s range from young – their youngest player is 18 – to their oldest player, who is 44.
Mr Whitton said: “We have a really good mix of guys, some who have played in school or never played before. We are very much a development squad.
“We have people who come along just for fitness and eventually they go, ‘I will play a game’, and guys there week in, week out that just want to play rugby.
“We try and get a game once or twice a month. This season we have played six games so far, and we plan to go to the Union Cup in Brussels in May to defend the plate we won.”
Although the Lions are 11 years old, they are not having a party. But they will celebrate victory against the Bristol Bisons on Saturday.
Mr Whitton said: “It will be a tight game. We have played them twice already this season; we won the first game and drew the second. Both teams will definitely be up for winning this time.”
Cardiff Lions RFC are holding fundraising nights in Eagle on March 13 and 14. The train in Sofia Gardens, Pontcanna, on Tuesday evenings and on Sundays, at Cardiff Harlequins’ Diamond Ground. For more information, visit http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/cardifflionsrfc/