Musclemary Meets The London Stags
Musclemary Meets The London Stags
Kicking toxic masculinity into touch: The inspiring story of The London Stags International Gay Rugby (IGR) Club
An interview with The London Stags former Chairperson Michael Smith.
After an initial recruitment drive resulted in only 6 players attending the clubs first meet, you could forgive Michael for having reservations about the future of the club. Thankfully, these early doubts were unfounded. Fast forward just under two years and the club is now a thriving community with over 100 active members offering everyone a safe place to meet new people, improve their fitness and learn about the game of rugby.
With the overarching principle of inclusivity, the club aims to break down the barriers which have previously prevented those who have struggled, or are currently struggling, with either their orientation, identity, or expression from participating in sport. Michael describes how many of these issues, present during adolescence, have continued into adulthood.
“For a lot of the members, sport, in particular team sports, weren’t a consideration when they were growing up. For a gay man just the thought of getting ready in an all-male changing room would be enough to make them not want to participate.”
More specifically in relation to rugby, a lot of their club members had been put off either trying or continuing to play rugby due to the culture they experienced or through intimidation of the ‘rugby boys’ at school or simply not being selected to play. Indeed, a large proportion of their current members had never played rugby prior to joining.
Michael states how “Traditionally, rugby is a game that has been associated with the Alpha male, a game only suitable for so-called ‘real men’. Several members experienced a setting within clubs where any sign of perceived vulnerability be it emotional or physical, was seen as a weakness and exploited. Understandably this environment of toxic masculinity makes it extremely uncomfortable to enter or remain in.”
Interestingly Michael notes that although The Stags are positioned as an IGR club, they are inclusive of all sexualities and count within their membership several straight men who have been turned off by the toxic masculinity they have experienced within previous clubs.
Although the rugby side is taken seriously, for The Stags and their members the score on the field is very much secondary to the overall experience that everyone has being part of the club. Although members are provided with the opportunity to play both forms of the game, touch or full contact there are several initiatives and events that have taken place which have little to do with rugby but have added to the sense of community within the club. Indeed, there are a number of members who are active participants but don’t play rugby of any form.
With membership soaring during lockdown at a time when isolation and mental health issues were particularly prominent The Stags provided a safe place for members to talk and interact with others potentially experiencing similar difficulties. Through initiatives such as Mindful Monday’s and online Yoga, to a more extravagant Stottervision (a fun teambuilding Eurovision karaoke collaboration with inclusive rowing team The Otters ) the club offered a platform to connect and share experiences and meet new people. This underlines the ethos of being more than simply a Rugby club but a community where individuals are valued, listened to, supported and celebrated for their uniqueness.
Through meeting Michael and the other members of the club, it is evident they are proud to be part of the community and take a huge amount of pleasure from their participation in club activities. However, there is a serious message that cannot be missed. The message that a countless number of people are in search of connection and a sense of safe community. Sport when done correctly provides the perfect platform to achieve this. It is so important that as time progresses all barriers to participation for all are removed and any existing prejudices or toxic cultures are highlighted and eradicated so no future children will share the same experiences that many of the Stags did growing up.
The recent Olympics have reaffirmed the power of sport and how nations and people can come together to participate on a global stage. However, the question needs to be asked of how many potential athletes have been lost due to the installed cultures and barriers to participation that they have experienced. The work has started through clubs like The Stags, who I am in no doubt will continue to thrive, but there is still much work to be done.
For those in the Mitcham area of London the club host sessions every Saturday at Mitcham & Carlshalton Rugby Club at 12.00 noon and welcome all new members. The club can be reached out to on their social platforms.
If you are not from the area but want to find an inclusive rugby club close to you then check out…https://inclusiverugby.com/
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