Men of muscle
Never make the mistake of calling the Sydney Convicts all-gay rugby union team a novelty – you might find yourself at the bottom of one of their scrums.
“We are not trying to take the nightclub to the football field,” club founder Andrew Purchas says.
“We are very focused on being a rugby club first that just happens to be gay rather than a gay team that plays rugby, so the quality and the intensity of football are just as important as the social side.”
Under Purchas’s tutelage, the Convicts have developed an impressive competition portfolio. Founded in 2004, the team play in the local Sydney competition under the guise of the Woollahra Colleagues RFC. In 2005, they won it.
“We were the first gay team in the world to win in a straight competition,” says Purchas.
This year they missed out on a semi-finals berth by a mere point. “We are certainly not seen as a novelty because we are winning most of our games,” he said.
Purchas says the idea for an all-gay team came after he spent some time living in San Francisco, and playing for their gay team, the Fog. On 11 September 2001, a gay player called Mark Bingham was a tragic victim of the terror attacks in New York. He was aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
In 2002 an international rugby competition was established in his honour: the Bingham Cup. Described as the “gay rugby World Cup” the biennial event attracted eight teams in its first year, 24 in its second showing in 2004 and 34 teams in 2006.
“The number of gay teams around the world is growing quite considerably,” Purchas says. Indeed, the Convicts were born from the desire to compete in London in 2004.
A team of 25 plus officials and supporters made that journey, only to be knocked out by the men from San Francisco in the semi-finals by a slim margin.
The two teams met again in New York in 2006 – but this time the lads from Sydney were triumphant: their stronger team won the Bingham Cup while their secondary team took out the Plate competition.
And while there’s a serious, sports side to the club, the boys are very social, hosting regular events, fundraisers and helping community organisations including their sponsor, ACON. And what about love on the field?
“There have been a bunch of relationships that have started through the team,” Purchas admits. “We have a code of conduct and we can’t stop people of course, but the hope is that if anything breaks down then it doesn’t affect the harmony of the club.
“There’s no sexual tension – people are out there to play rugby,” he said.