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Zero tolerance for hate

Our series of Pride blogs continues with Manchester's Village Spartans on the impact that promoting diversity and inclusivity within rugby union, and all sport, can have both on and off the field.

16th June 2023

by Gareth Longley
Chairman, Manchester Village Spartans RUFC

I belong to a pioneeing rugby club that exists to break down barriers to LGBT+ participation and create a safe and welcoming environment for all.

Established in 1999, Manchester Village Spartans RUFC has evolved into a thriving community that welcomes all adults, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, rugby ability or experience. 

Having been a Spartan for over a decade myself, I’ve personally experienced the profound impact the club has on the lives of young LGBT+ players, many of whom had never even touched a rugby ball in their lives before joining.

Our mission has always been to provide a space where everyone can participate and enjoy learning and playing rugby, whatever background they may come from - breaking down stereotypes and embracing the core values of rugby union in a safe space with zero tolerance for hate. 

Manchester Village Spartans RUFC is a pioneeing rugby club that exists to break down barriers to LGBT+ participation and create a safe and welcoming environment for all.

Creating an environment where everyone can play the game they love, free from discrimination and prejudice, shouldn’t feel like rocket science. 

It impacts positively on lives well beyond the field, influencing the players and the broader community for the better. 

Sports clubs have the remarkable ability to create safe spaces where individuals can truly be themselves - and when it comes to LGBT+ individuals, this safe space is often particularly important.

It really shouldn’t be hard for a club to want to, or be able to, develop a supportive environment where players can express their true identities without fear of judgment or exclusion.

We provide a path to a healthier lifestyle for individuals who may not have considered team sports before.

Through comprehensive training sessions and regular competitive matches - including within our local rugby union league - we promote physical wellbeing and mental resilience.

Players become united by a shared love for the game and improving at a sport many may have felt they shouldn’t play ‘because they’re gay’. 

Inclusive rugby challenges stereotypes and breaks them down.

We challenge preconceived notions about who can participate and excel in the game and through our actions, we aim to inspire others and reshape perceptions.

By raising awareness, sharing our stories, and engaging with the wider public, we can challenge discrimination. 

Village Spartans Rugby Club players relax during a session in the park

The joke is that it wasn’t that long ago clubs would expect us to turn up to matches in stilletos and drag, but today no-one bats a proverbial eyelid when they play against us.

By getting out there, by simply ‘coming out to play’ this brilliant sport, we’ve somehow managed to change things. 

If a bunch of everyday, grassroots union and touch players can achieve this, then anyone can really!

Almost 25 years on since our first pioneering squad gathered together on Canal Street in Manchester to ‘Give Rugby a Try’, and as the world’s second oldest gay and inclusive rugby club, we’re as comitted today in our quest to lower the barriers to play for everyone as we were back then. 

We’re here to help organisations establish policies and initiatives that can foster an environment, indeed a society, of acceptance that celebrates diversity and gives everyone a chance to learn the values of sportsmanship, enjoyment, teamwork, discipline and respect.

We’ll continue to help grow the sport by getting out there –  going to Pride marches, helping to set up new clubs that we can play against in the Inclusive Gay Rugby UK League, and raising awareness and building social cohesion between people of different backgrounds, sexualities and gender-identities. 

As one of our players said to me recently, joining the Spartans felt like receiving a big welcoming hug that he didn’t even realise he needed and that stopped him feeling lost. 

If we can continue to do that for people, then we’re winning before we’ve even stepped foot on the field. 

Rugby, after all, and like all sports, really should be for all.

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