Rainbow Laces in rugby: “If you actually step back and look at yourselves, you have to question whether you’re doing as much as you can.”

Football is far and away the dominant sport in the UK. As such, that is where most of the sports coverage in the media falls, and also where campaigns like Rainbow Laces are most likely to be visible.

However, Rainbow Laces is not just limited to football. Sky Sports have published various articles with people in other sports, including tennis player Lucy Shuker and a special episode of their golf podcast dedicated to the campaign.

Rugby union, too, has shown its support for Rainbow Laces. Again, Sky Sports have played a role there, with Dr Ranj taking part in an episode of I’m Game where he spent a day at Harlequins.

Whereas some sports have a tenuous relationship with LGBTQIA+ inclusion, if they have one at all, there are plenty of positive examples to point to in rugby union. Figures like Gareth Thomas and Nigel Owens are legends of the game and prominent LGBTQIA+ figures, as is commentator Nick Heath, while the likes of former England captain Chris Robshaw posted from Pride In London on social media, showing that he is an ally.

As is common across sport, there are several examples of out athletes currently in the international fold in the women’s game – Harlequins and Scotland number eight Jade Konkel is just one example.

Back in Konkel’s home in the Highlands, then, it has been heartening to see teams at all levels of the Scottish club pyramid showing their support for Rainbow Laces.

All clubs in the area, Highland, Inverness Craig Dunain, Ross Sutherland and Caithness, have taken advantage of the SRU’s push this year and ordered a free pack of laces, putting a message of inclusion out through their social media channels.

Caithness RFC were just one of several Scottish rugby teams to support the Rainbow Laces campaign.

It has been a first for Craig Dunain in particular, at least as an entire entity, as individuals have already had rainbow laces in their boots for years.

“I suppose it’s about showing that the club is welcome for everybody,” women’s vice captain Erin Green said.

“We’re an all-inclusive club, and we try to promote it throughout everywhere. The Rainbow Laces campaign is to show support for LGBT+, so it shows that we’re supportive and open to everybody.

“All in all it’s just about knowing that everyone is included. It’s a good campaign – quite a few of the girls already wear rainbow laces, and they have done for years, myself included.

“Being able to offer that to everybody – we’re not going to force anyone to wear them, but allowing them to wear them and show a bit of support is good.

“When you go to other clubs you see them wearing them as well, so it’s quite good to get the SRU involved in it. I was based in the Scottish Borders for quite a while, and it was a thing that my college actually did, but I believe this is actually the first time that the SRU have done something like this.

“I don’t know if any other clubs have done it on their own, but it’s definitely the first time since I’ve been at Craig Dunain for the last four or five years that we’ve done it, so we’re getting the men’s and women’s teams involved in it.”

Scottish Rugby’s involvement certainly seems to have encouraged clubs up and down the country to get involved in Rainbow Laces this year.

In stark contrast to football where some clubs have been left to their own devices, and others had not received campaign materials by the time their designated Rainbow Laces fixture came around, the SRU’s support cannot be questioned.

That, according to Green, is a key element of inclusive messages getting through – that it is prevalent across all levels of the game.

“It’s phenomenal – considering that other places push it as well, that it’s finally coming from the actual SRU who provided the laces for free, it’s amazing,” she said.

“You just had to order a pack, it was funded already. It gave us something to promote on social media – and when it comes to backing for anything from the top, the further you go the better. For the Rainbow Laces campaign, I was kind of shocked when I came across it. I was like ‘this is something that everybody in the club will go ‘wow’ at’.

“There’s men’s mental health month too, and we’ve actually tried to drive that at the club but men are very shy about it in a way. For this though, everybody wants to get involved. It’s about finding the right thing to pinpoint, that’s the way forward, and it has been that for us.

“I was down at Murrayfield for the Young Ambassadors Conference the weekend of the Australia game (last month), and we had a conversation about it there.

“Even Tim Visser, who is still very involved, was saying that the SRU are driving little things like this, so it comes from a national level right down to grassroots level.

“Seeing it being driven at grassroots level is the way forward, definitely, because then people can go up the levels and take it with them. Like anything in the world, if you implement it at grassroots level, you’ll have it throughout.”

Across at Ross Sutherland, inclusion has been a big priority over the last year or two anyway. They have introduced touch and walking rugby programmes to make the sport as accessible as possible to as many people as they can reach, and earlier this year they launched a formal women’s section for the first time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the Rainbow Laces campaign was something they too were all too keen to be a part of.

“The more recognition that you can have of these things, the more conversations you can start,” Ross Sutherland coach and development officer, John Mann, reasoned.

“It’s quite a simple thing to do – change your laces for a month – and that can help start conversations, so I think it’s great.

“I wouldn’t say it’s because of Rainbow Laces necessarily, but it’s on our radar now – we’re having a huge push for inclusion at the moment. I think every club in the world could work harder on inclusion, so we’re trying to have more and more chats with people about how we can make the game accessible to everyone.

“Traditionally, rugby has always been seen as a men’s game and that’s it, but it’s 100 per cent not. It’s a game for everyone, we just need to create more of those avenues to make it more accessible to people.

“I would say it’s a very small percentage of players who are LGBTQ+, and I don’t know if that’s because there’s just a smaller percentage of that group playing rugby, or if we’re still not opening the door wide enough to make everyone aware that our club is open to all.”

That is a key element of Rainbow Laces – getting more people actively involved in sport from the LGBTQIA+ community.

The proof will be in the pudding if more people feel comfortable to be their authentic selves while also taking part in sport, and Mann feels clubs can be doing more to make it clear that LGBTQIA+ players are welcome – and that support at certain times of the year is not simply all talk with no action.

“I’m obviously passionate about my rugby, and I think from my point of view it’s easy for people to say they’re an inclusive club, or that they’re in an inclusive environment,” he explained.

“If you actually step back and look at yourselves, you have to question whether you’re doing as much as you can. For me it’s important for everyone to ask what more we can do to help people benefit with what we have to offer.

“It’s almost a tag line people use when they say they’re really inclusive, but every now and then you have to ask if you can open the door to more people.

“It’s easy to say we have conversations about things, but I think whenever we have community team meetings or club meetings, it’s all on the agenda.

“Are we using our club to its full potential? Are we opening it up to everyone? Are we excluding anyone? Instead of just having the conversation, it’s about asking the question of whether we’re doing enough. Like everyone, we’ve got a long way to go, but I would like to think we’re starting to push it a bit more away from what a traditional rugby club is and trying to get rid of some of the stigmas that come along with that.

“If we’re looking down the line, for our club as well as all clubs in the area, anyone should be able to think they can give it a go.

“As simple as that sounds, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. There should be no doubts, no asking questions, it should just be a case of if someone wants to give it a go, they can rock up and give it a go. We need to be constantly publicising what our club stands for, and that we’re always trying to get new people in the door.”

In Scotland, there are more inclusive clubs in rugby than in nearly any other sport. Although it could be argued that they fact they are needed is a negative reflection on rugby, that they simply exist proves that rugby is one of the most proactive sports when it comes to LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the country right now.

It has almost become a point of cliche that women’s sport is more welcoming for LGBTQIA+ identities, but it is notable that inclusive clubs for lesbian, bisexual and trans women are far less common than male equivalents.

As far as Green’s experience at Inverness Craig Dunain is concerned, there have been no issues for LGBTQIA+ players, and she believes the sport as a whole is slowly becoming a better place for them.

“We’re a different kind of club than I’ve ever been at before,” Green enthused.

“Rainbow Laces will help us show that on social media by showing that we’re actually campaigning for it. It’s amazing that the SRU have offered this to clubs weeks in advance.

“We’ve been able to drive it on social media for weeks and weeks. It’s not every single day, but every so often, and for people to see that they can join us and be who they are, we’re not ever going to judge them, it shows that rugby is for everybody.

“That’s literally what we all say, even the SRU – it’s everybody’s game. The SRU drove an ‘It’s Everybody’s Game’ campaign earlier in the year, and this campaign shows that it really is.

“I have played for eight years, and even in that time it’s really nice to see the change. Everybody has got their opinions, but a lot of people are starting to accept that it is everybody’s game. It’s open to everybody, and it’s a safe space for people as well sometimes.

“There’s no judgement, we’re all there for the same thing which is rugby, so 100% people will be shouting openly about it. We’ve just had a couple in the women’s rugby team who recently got engaged. We all come together as a team to show that we’re that kind of club. Since I’ve been with Craig Dunain, we’ve never had judgement of anybody.

“I was speaking to someone not long ago and they were kind of all over the place about it, they didn’t know what to think but they accepted it, and since the SRU have been driving it it means that other clubs will be accepting it as well.”

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