LGBT sports players and supporters turned out in force for the launch of Prism Sports Ireland, a recently established national association representing LGBT sports and recreational organisations in Ireland, on September 27th. Including over 500 members from 7 sports clubs, featuring both men’s and women’s sports and covering rugby, squash, football, water sports and hockey, Prism Sports Ireland is by no means a small endeavour, and this could certainly be seen last weekend.
The launch night included a showcase of club representatives, answering questions on their respective clubs and was finished with a powerful speech from Ireland’s most capped female sports player. Nikki Symmons, who at one point was described as “the female Brian O’ Driscoll”, has represented Ireland in both Hockey and Cricket in over 200 matches. Speaking by video link from Lausanne, Switzerland, where she is currently based, Symmons pledged herself as a Prism ambassador and described the important role sport plays in community life. Her speech highlighted the role of LGBT sports clubs in promoting participation and encouraging inclusivity in the sporting world.
It is highly apparent that LGBT sports people are underrepresented at the international level. This is both a symptom and a cause of the problems Symmons spoke about. Researchers into the experiences of LGBT people from the University of Victoria found that almost half of the LGBT individuals playing sport that they interviewed had not come out, and would not feel comfortable doing so to their team mates. Studies across the world have found similarly shocking statistics. But what can LGBT sports groups and associations do to tackle this?
The issue of coming out in sport has recently garnered much media attention. Gareth Thomas, former Welsh international rugby captain, came out in 2009 and has since discussed his experiences. In a recent interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, Thomas discussed his contemplation of suicide and explained that he’s “not sure if it was because I was gay that I felt such depression. It was just that I was lying to everyone.” In the years following his coming out, Thomas has spoken about the importance of LGBT sporting events, in particular, the Bingham Cup, stating, “I think it’s a massive representation of not only the LGBT community but also I think society in general, in the fact that there are straight players playing in the Bingham Cup as well. I think it offers gay men a network that sometimes the fear of playing straight-dominated sports won’t give them.”
Thomas touches on an important aspect of LGBT sports clubs, in that they present an opportunity to engage in sport outside of a traditional “straight-dominated” framework. Free from any need to “come out”, heterosexual and LGBT people are welcomed equally to the clubs. By removing the implicit heterosexual assumption of most sports clubs, it puts LGBT people on an even footing with other players. Additionally, when LGBT sports teams succeed, it helps to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding LGBT players and sport, which is an undeniable factor at play in the exclusion of LGBT sports people.
LGBT sports in Ireland
Many LGBT sports clubs across Ireland have experienced recent success at the international LGBT level. Playing in the Bingham Cup (The Gay Rugby World Cup), The Emerald Warriors reached the final of their division, only to be beaten by the New Zealand Falcon’s. The Pink Ladies returned victorious from the London Pink Hockey Fest, with silver and bronze medal wins, while the Dublin Devils hosted gay community football teams from across Europe in 2013 for the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association ‘Euros’ competition.
Despite these recent successes, however, all of these teams and clubs are only as good as their members and expansion is never far from the minds of these teams. Many of them do not only play in international LGBT events but also compete in local and regional competitions within Ireland, and are looking for players able to commit to league time matches. As part of the ethos of inclusivity, the clubs generally accept members of all levels and availabilities. However, PRISM has bigger aspirations in mind.
It was clear on the launch night that Prism has big dreams for the future of Irish LGBT sport. While Limerick’s 2018 bid for the Gay Games proved unsuccessful, it has resulted in positivity regarding future Irish bids for international LGBT sporting events, supported by Prism. In relation to the association’s aspirations, Richie Whyte, chair of Prism Sports Ireland, said, “Many of our member clubs have hosted significant international competitions within their own disciplines. We feel that the time is right to develop our skills running multi-sport events on a national basis with a view to eventually running a top tier international LGBT sporting event”
If you are interested in finding out more about Prism Sports Ireland, or getting involved in any of the clubs it represents, visit prismsports.ie.