In 2009, Ben Lancken put an advert in the queer press asking for interest in forming a gay rugby team, not knowing if anyone would reply.
Ten years on, the Melbourne Chargers have made a name for themselves locally and overseas as a force for inclusion, diversity and sportsmanship.
The Star Observer looks back on a decade of inclusive rugby in Melbourne with two players who were there from the start.
“I’d moved to Melbourne from NSW having played rugby at school and wanted to get back into it,” Lancken recalls
“I’d heard about the Sydney Convicts and I decided to see if I could do something similar here.”
“Even though I’d played, coached and refereed rugby, I left ruby because I couldn’t truly be myself. When I became comfortable in my own skin, I wanted to share what the sport meant to me. After all, there’s an opportunity with team sports to give people incredible life experiences that you don’t get with other hobbies.”
“The fact that we are talking ten years on shows a movement isn’t about who starts it, but those that join it.”
Lancken got over fifteen responses and the team grew from there.
A year later they competed in the world cup of inclusive rugby, the Bingham Cup, taking out the Bingham Bowl, but it took a while for people to warm to them locally.
“That first year the wider rugby community didn’t take us very seriously and we didn’t get a lot of support,” Lancken said.
“But now Victorian Rugby Union and the Melbourne Rebels are one of our biggest supporters.”
“People who had once never picked up a rugby ball or played a team sport are now travelling the world, having amazing experiences thanks to this team.”
The Chargers won the Bingham Cup in Nashville in 2016 and were awarded the Ben Cohen StandUp Award for sportsmanship on and off the pitch.
“Winning the world cup of inclusive rugby was one thing, but also being awarded for our teamsmanship and spirit was another,” The Chargers’ Ryan Naylor recalls of the win.
“I’m proud that we are recognised around the world and locally in this way. Being welcoming and a good place for new people to come and play are the sorts of things I dreamed of when we formed.”
After playing every position on and off the field, Naylor is hanging up his boots this year, retiring with a deep sense of pride.
“I came to the Chargers holding the hand of a friend who wanted to know more, but I was the one who fell in love with the sport and kept on going,” Naylor said.
“The Chargers have moved from small beginnings to world champions, and everything we continue to achieve along the way.”
“It’s difficult to keep a rugby team going in an AFL state like Victoria, and the fact that we have managed to continue to improve our position both on the world stage and the Melbourne community is something that anyone who’s been a part of the past ten years should be proud of.”
“I think we still have some work to do regarding creating inclusive places for trans players, and that’s something we are working on. But I think we’ve done a really good job of creating an inclusive sporting culture. One that includes including people who are new to rugby no matter how you identify.”
The season may be over, but the Melbourne Chargers are continuing training as they get ready for the Bingham Cup in Canada next year.
They’re always looking for new people to give rugby a try and be a part of their legacy.
Find them online at www.melbournechargers.org