When the Bingham Cup 2022 tournament draw is held on 13 August it will signal the end of a five-year journey to take the world championships for gay and inclusive rugby clubs to Ottawa.
Preparations to stage the 10th edition of the biennial tournament in the Canadian city began back in 2017 as members of the Ottawa Wolves put together a bid that won hosting rights a year later.
Originally scheduled to be played in 2020, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic ensured that those plans were put on hold for two years.
The organisers have since watched nervously as Canada has emerged from what Bingham Cup 2022 president Jean-François Laberge describes as an “endless winter” and there is huge anticipation for a tournament that is now less than two months away.
“It’s starting to hit us all,” Laberge told World Rugby. “We haven’t had this level of excitement since we announced that we won the Bingham Cup back in 2018.”
Unsurprisingly, though, there were times during the last two years when Laberge and his organising committee questioned whether the Bingham Cup would ever come to Ontario.
“When you lead an organisation and you lead a one-time event like this that is entirely volunteer run, and everybody's feeling the effects in their personal lives and professional lives... You have to put a strong, positive spin on everything,” he added.
“There was so much uncertainty that we were having some hard discussions about, you know, are we going to have this?
“It's one thing to [put it] on, but is anybody going to be able to show up? Because people couldn't even come to the country at the time.
“So, there were some discussions but those are had privately. Just like in rugby, no matter what the score is, we decided that we would just play until the final whistle.
“We pushed on and, silver linings, things turned around and now we have a load of people that we’ve got to get ready to host in just two months.”
Leaving a legacy
Laberge and his organisers are planning to do much more than just host the teams and their players in Ottawa in August.
It is hoped Bingham Cup 2022 will be the greenest and most inclusive event in its history, with conferences to be held on homophobia and transphobia while wheelchair rugby exhibition matches are also planned.
“The beauty of the Bingham Cup is that it's the biannual family reunion of the International Gay Rugby movement,” Laberge said.
“Every Bingham Cup, it doesn't matter its size, its budget, its attendance, it's always going to be a success. It's the opportunity of that host city or host country to show all the rugby folks what they're all about.
“We're looking forward to showing what Canada is all about and to build on the legacies of the prior Bingham Cups.
“So, staying true to Canadian values, we want everybody to bring their authentic selves here. And we are trying to make it the most inclusive rugby tournament that has ever been put on.”
As part of the legacy programme, the organisers have committed to renovating a multi-use sports pitch in a deprived part of the city which will become known as Mark Bingham Field.
Bingham, in whose memory the inclusive tournament has been held every two years since 2002, was a rugby player and 9/11 hero who was one of the passengers who fought back against hijackers on board United flight 93. This bravery reflected his personal determination to tackle whatever challenges life threw at him, such as coming out as a gay man at a time when the prevailing attitudes towards sexuality across contact sports and many sectors of society would have made such a choice very difficult if not impossible for many.
It is a particularly poignant gesture as the 10th edition of the Bingham Cup will be the first to be played since his mother Alice Hoagland, who was a big supporter of the tournament and inclusive rugby, passed away.
Following her death, a fundraiser was set up in her name and the proceeds of that will be used to provide future hosts of the Bingham Cup with crucial start-up funds.
“We’re trying to take a negative and turn it into positive to make sure that the legacy of the Mark Bingham Cup continues,” Laberge said.
“I'll be dead, and that field will still have his name. So, that means that thousands of young athletes, when they lace up on that field and see the plaque, will learn of the IGR, the international gay rugby movement and of Mark Bingham's legacy to sports and inclusion and diversity. These are all very important things.”
“Best Bingham yet”
Laberge believes that participants and spectators can expect a “true world-class event” in Ottawa in August. “It’s going to have that big international feel,” he said.
Outgoing International Gay Rugby chair Karl Ainscough-Gates has worked with Laberge over the course of his two-year term and is confident the Bingham Cup 2022 will be one to remember.
“Jean-François Laberge and his team have worked tirelessly to ensure that this tournament goes ahead and goes ahead successfully,” he said.
“What Bingham Cup has done is really provide a tournament that's got something for everyone.
“I have regular one-to-ones with Jean-François to ensure that from an organisational level it really is going to be the best Bingham yet.
“We've had some amazing tournaments in the past, but I think Canada, a new country for us, we've never had a Bingham Cup there, it's really going to be something quite special. I'm quite excited about it.”
Jamie Levchuk, Interim Chief Executive Officer at Rugby Canada, added: “For Rugby fans across Canada, North America and beyond, the wait is nearly over for the Bingham Cup 2022 in Ottawa – our nation’s capital – and all at Rugby Canada wish the teams, organisers, volunteers and fans the very best for what promises to be a tournament the worldwide rugby family can take pride in this August."
To find out more about Bingham 2022, visit www.binghamcup.com
To learn more about diversity and inclusion in rugby, visit www.world.rugby/RugbyForAll