Gay rugby in Stockholm ‘stirs the imagination’

Gay rugby in Stockholm 'stirs the imagination'
Despite Sweden's progressive attitude toward homosexuality and the affinity for rugby in the gay community, Stockholm's own gay rugby team, the Berserkers, is a late entrant on the scene, The Local's Geoff Mortimore discovers.

”At the first training session when we started out, we only had 13 players,” says organizer Daniel Sköld.

The team started up last year and has proved to be such a hit that it will join an official league this summer.

Not exclusively gay, the organizers are keen to promote the what they call an ”open and inclusive” group of players, all from different backgrounds and most complete novices in the sport.

”Now we have around 60, which is a huge increase and shows just how popular the game is, but also what a good marketing job has been done around the team.”

To promote the side, the rugby club held a series of networking events including one during the Pride Festival last summer, which turned out to be an ideal recruitment platform.

”Pride made a big difference, because after that we got a lot of attention in press which meant more and more people joined up after hearing about us. We also played on the fact that rugby is such an unexpected sport for gays to be playing, which really stirred people’s imagination.”

The off pitch marketing was perhaps easier than the playing side itself, but the huge lack of experience conversely helped the team grow together, according to Sköld.

“Rugby is not common in Sweden anyway. If you want to join a soccer team you have to have played for a long time and are expected to know a lot about the game. None of us had ever played rugby so the fact that everyone learned from scratch brought lots of invention and had a huge social effect as well.”

Sköld says that so far, despite fears in some quarters, the reaction to the team has been universally positive.

“It has been great, and we have had lots of support from the Swedish rugby community. I think we expected a weird reaction but that hasn’t happened at all, maybe because it is not a typically gay activity. Also, for those outside the community it is a way in, perhaps, without them having to hang out in bars, things like that. To us it is just a good social and fun melting pot,” says Sköld.

2012 looks like it will be busy for the newly formed Stockholm Berserkers, who play their first official league game against Hammarby on May 13th.

They are planning a mini tournament during Stockholm Pride, with teams from Brussels and Copenhagen as well as representing Sweden in the Bingham Cup, the world championship of gay and inclusive rugby teams, which is held every year and is one of the largest men’s rugby union tournament in the sporting calendar.

In a short time The Stockholm Berserkers have already come a long way, both on the pitch and off it.

“I think we are helping people on a lot of different levels. Perhaps the attention our team has had will encourage other sports to be more open, while in our own way we are helping to support the fight against homophobia in sport. It is really important that we have a positive effect on the gay community at the same time,” says Sköld.

It’s not too late to get involved, so if you are keen on joining in or trying out a new sport contact the club via the website

The team trains at Årstafältet every Sunday at 16.00-18.00 and Wednesdays at 18.00-20.00.

Geoff Mortimore

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