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'The Bingham Cup is a safe space for people to be themselves'

By Jack Tunney
Players of Italy wear rainbow laces, one year before the start of the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament "Bingham Cup" to be held in Rome in 2024 during Italy Team's Run at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi on April 28, 2023 in Parma, Italy. (Photo by Emmanuele Ciancaglini/Federugby via Getty Images)

The Bingham Cup is upon us once again, this time taking place in the stunning surroundings of Rome. For those uninitiated, the IGR Bingham Cup is an International Gay Rugby tournament named after Mark Kendall Bingham, an openly gay rugby player and hero of United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.

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Established in 2002, it is held every two years and involves LGBTQ+ and inclusive rugby teams from around the world. The Bingham Cup promotes diversity, inclusion, respect and solidarity, offering a platform for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies to compete in a welcoming environment.

Speaking to Gianmarco Forcella, the president of the 2024 Bingham Cup organising committee, we delved into the importance and the history of this unique competition.

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COMING SOON

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What makes this event so special?
“It began as a memorial tournament” Gianmarco explained, “but throughout time it has actually worked out as a legacy to demonstrate that inclusion in sport, especially rugby, is possible. If you ask me why the Bingham Cup is important, or what is the Bingham Cup, that’s what it is for me.

“It’s first of all an opportunity to carry on the legacy of Mark Bingham, but it is also an important opportunity to send a message to sports, institutions and communities, but also to the country where the Bingham Cup will be hosted, that sport is, for everybody.

“There are no barriers and there shouldn’t be.”

Bingham Cup
Angus Ta’avao wears rainbow-coloured bootlaces in support of the LGBT community against the Lions in Hamilton. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

What barriers, in particular, are being targeted by the Bingham Cup?

“Now, I would say, even in Italy there are still cases in which, being gay, lesbian, transgender or non-binary, can be a problem inside associations. But, we’re starting to go into a process where this is not a problem anymore.

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On the subject of transgender participation, Forcella feels there are challenges to inclusion, breaking barriers and matters relating to strength and performance.

“These are things that need to be taken in baby steps. There are federations that have their own point of view, and it will take time. We need to showcase that it can be possible without any risk by applying all the necessary needs to guarantee the safety of everybody.”

How do you minimise risks? How do you ensure safety?

“So in terms of safety, we do our homework with researchers and also sports people. We’re well aware of the issues that face transgender people. So we just ask them to be compliant in terms of their own insurances in their home country. So that if anything should happen, they are covered, and we just allow them to play.

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While World Rugby’s Transgender Guidelines enable transgender men to play contact rugby, transgender women’s participation in contact rugby is currently not recommended. However, non-contact rugby is open to all and the guidance also strongly recommends that each Union adopts its own regulations to determine the eligibility of transgender players to compete in events taking place under its own jurisdiction, such as the Bingham Cup.

Forcella’s aim is to show that sport can be inclusive on and off the pitch and that the best way to do that is to ensure players can play like any other.

“We want to have this Bingham Cup as a point of reference for future studies and future consideration by all other universities, sports federations, and so on.

“So the insurance having them play, for example, they are transitioning from male to female, playing in the female division, and that’s how we thought of guaranteeing, not just the security, but also to feel ease, to play at this moment in general.

For those involved in the competition, on the playing side, what impact has it had for individuals, and what is the wider objective of the Bingham Cup?

“This is actually the point of having inclusive teams like the King Cross Steelers in London. They were the first that were born internationally, and the sake of having this team is to let persons feel at home.

“Wherever you are, at your work, your sports club, with your family or your friends, you should not be afraid of being who you are, or being afraid of presenting your partner, whoever he or she is.

“This is also the point of still having the Bingham Cup. I believe that the moment we do not need inclusive teams or competitions like the Bingham Cup, that is the point at which we will have reached full inclusion for everybody.

“The Bingham Cup is a safe space for people to be themselves with no issues or fears of being accused or threatened for what they are.”

How inclusive is it? Could I, as a heterosexual male come along and feel included?

“This is the very nice part of it. Taking as an example Libera Rugby, they were born in 2013 from the idea of a few gay friends at a gym. Then, in like two years it became a team which had 50% straight and 50% homosexual players, and that is the point. The point of inclusive teams is it mustn’t just be gay people, and that’s it.

“That’s the beautiful thing about the inclusive teams. The teams are generally split between sexual orientation, so they don’t care about your sexual orientation or gender, or your pronouns, they just care about being yourself inside their team and to enjoying the rugby. The team, the friends that you can make there, that’s the beautiful thing.”

How many teams are likely to be involved in this international competition?

“We fell off the chair because we were expecting 80 teams to be honest. We actually have more than 100 teams. That is 93 in the men’s division, and 8 female teams. When we saw the numbers being finalised, we were all like, ‘Oh, god!’ There are 50 per cent more numbers than Amsterdam in 2018 when they had 72 teams.

“I can say, with no issues at all, that this is the biggest Bingham Cup ever. We have 3,560 people among players, staff, and supporters, but we do know for certain that at least 1,000, 2,000 more folks are coming in the city just for the tournament, the experience and just to cheer it on.”

So, with all these excited people turning up to Rome for this huge event, what level of support has Gianmarco been given, and how long has he been planning it?

“28 months, 28, really long months. It seems like yesterday we were just starting to prepare the bid. We have had lots of help from the Federazione Italiana Rugby , lots of help from the local administration and all the sports authorities in Rome. So this is going to be a very huge event and a step forward in terms of quality for the Bingham Cup, and we can’t wait to have the folks there.”

In such a beautiful city as is Rome, what should visitors and players visit during their stay?

“If you have some spare time between matches, I always suggest getting lost in the city centre, and visiting Altare della Patria.”

The 2024 Bingham Cup is taking place between the 22nd – 26th of May. For the full agenda and further useful information, please click here: Bingham Cup – Rome 2024

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