THE Bingham Cup tournament was established in 2002, and named after 9/11 hero Mark Bingham.
Mark grew up in California, graduating from Los Gatos high school as rugby captain. He eventually attended the University of California, Berkeley playing on two national championship-winning university rugby teams, for California.
At 21, Mark came out as gay.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Mark boarded United Flight 93 at Newark airport, bound for San Francisco.
Less than an hour into the flight, hijackers took control of the plane. Mark’s final call was to his mother Alice Hoagland, whereby he said his plane had been hijacked and he relayed his love for her.
However, Mark is believed to have been one of the passengers who, along with Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, formed a plan to overtake the plane from the hijackers, and led the effort that resulted in the crash of the plane into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The crash meant there were unfortuntely no survivors on United 93, but ultimately, the thwarted flight saved countless lives who may have beem originally targeted in Washington DC.
Mark was just 31 when he died in 2001, and the Bingham Cup was established the next year in honour of Mark’s courage, strength and love for rugby union.
“I miss Mark everyday but it is a great comfort to know that his friends want to carry on Mark’s name, as do I,” mum Alice said.
“I think the Bingham Cup is a wonderful event and I’m really proud that the international gay rugby association and board opted to use Mark’s name on what amounts to the gay world cup of rugby.
“For me, having the Bingham Cup named after Mark means people remember him for his sacrifice, and remember the heroism of that small group of men aboard that United Airlines flight.”
According to the San Fransisco Examiner, Mark was widely honored posthumously for having “smashed the gay stereotype mold and really opened the door to many others that came after him”, thanks to both his heroic actions on United 93 as well as his athletic physique and masculine lifestyle. Mark’s mum agreed.
“He came to people’s aid — people he did not know, people he knew, his friends — and during the final hour of his life, he was able to unite with three or four others who like him were determined team players that wanted to right a wrong,” Alice said.
“I don’t think any of those guys were gay, but no one was asking, as they stood and ran to the cockpit to try take control from those hijackers.
“Sexual orientation didn’t matter at all, what mattered was character and strength and courage. Mark showed that in abundance and I think every gay man or women can be inspired to do the same thing.”
Mark’s name today is honoured at the Ground Zero Memorial in New York City, and in 2004 singer Melissa Etheridge dedicated the song Tuesday Morning in his memory.
Many documentaries have also been made on Mark’s life courage, with the recent and award-winning The Rugby Player proving a hit at queer film festivals worldwide. The documentary was shown on Australian television for the first time on ABC last week.
Played biennially, previous hosting cities of the Bingham Cup include San Francisco, London, New York City, Dublin, Minneapolis and Manchester.
Only about six times competed in the first Bingham Cup tournament in San Fransciso in 2002, and it has grown so much that over 25 will compete in Sydney this year.
Mark Bingham visited many friends in Sydney over the years. He came to Sydney in July 1988 and again in 1989 for a schoolboy rugby tournament, in 1999 for Mardi Gras and 2000 for the Sydney Olympics.
The Bingham Cup is currently being hosted for the first time in Sydney, Australia, this week.
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**This article first appeared in the new September issue of the Star Observer, which is currently available in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. Click here to find out where you can grab your free copy or click here to read the magazine in digital flip-book format.