Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 19 News List

France's gay rugby teams play to put an end to prejudice

AFP , PARIS

Out with the macho locker-room jokes: as France gears up to host the rugby World Cup, the country's half dozen gay rugby clubs are closing ranks to tackle prejudice on the pitch.

Set up in 2004, the Paris-based les Gaillards (the Lads) team trains once a week near the Bois de Vincennes, east of Paris, with 30 players and around 100 regular supporters.

"We wanted a French equivalent to clubs like London's King's Cross Steelers or New York's Gotham Knights," said les Gaillards founder Gilles, who asked to be identified by first name only.

"Most club members are gay men who were wary of joining a conventional team, but it's also open to straight men, usually rugby beginners," he said.

Worldwide, the first gay rugby teams were the Sydney-based POOFTAs and South Africa's Jamieson Raiders, both founded in 1985.

The clubs form a growing global network linked by tournaments including the biennial Bingham Cup, which will take place next year in Dublin.

In 2005, the French Mediterranean city of Montpellier and local club los Valents (the Valiants) hosted the first ever Union Cup -- a European gay rugby non-professional tournament.

What French clubs such as the Gaillards -- which play other gay teams as well as straight rivals -- have in common is a will to promote tolerance.

"It always surprises people when at the beginning of a match we introduce ourselves as a gay team, but once on the pitch, we earn the other side's respect," said Christophe Solignac, who trains the Melee Alpine (Alpine Scrum).

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