Although preferring solo sports, Duncan Campbell still wanted a way to be part of a community in sport.
Based in Barcelona, he had no lack of opportunities to go running, cycling, hiking or climbing, and where possible he would invite friends along.
One of those occasions turned into a “big gay hike” as numbers reached double digits, which started wheels turning in the app developer’s mind.
Campbell realised that there was no centralised place for LGBTQIA+ people and clubs to come together and be in contact with each other, and from there Rally was born.
“I hate the fact that it’s so hard to make friends in the LGBTQ+ community that are not based on alcohol, drugs, partying, flirting, Grindr and those kinds of things,” he explained.
“We need more ways of making friends. I want to have friends who are much older than me, I want to have friends who are from different backgrounds, I want to have friends who are lesbians and bisexual people and all the other letters of the LGBTQIA+ acronym.
“I want that to happen and finding places to do is really difficult. I know there’s recently been a bit of a uptick in the amount of spaces that are available which are non-alcohol, LGBTQ+ spaces where you can actually go and meet people. They have sports days, and they have book readings and they have all sorts of stuff – and that’s incredible.
“This is just another one of these tools that enables our community to come together in healthy ways.
“I feel like there’s a lot of people that want to do sport, but there isn’t this framework to do it. They could set something up on meetup.com, but they don’t know that Meetup is going to reach LGBTQ+ people that like sports, they don’t have a way of saying ‘I’m building something, and I want it specifically to reach these people’ which I feel like Rally enables you to say.
“I can create a cycling team where we cycle up to the top of that hill once-a-week, and then I know that anyone coming into this app is going to see that and they’re going to say ‘that’s for me, I can join them’.
“I feel like it’s a much needed framework for creating more teams and individual stuff as well. If I want to go hiking, I don’t have anywhere I can say ‘hey, who wants to go hiking this weekend?’ and now there is and it will reach the people who are interested.
“If I post that I want to do the Barcelona Marathon – which I did – it actually sends a message out to everyone who’s interested in running in Barcelona to say ‘I’m doing this, do you want to join in’, so actually you can reach out to people quite easily that you’ve never met or ever spoken to and build up those groups of people to do stuff together with.”
A work in progress
Campbell developed the app – and continues to make improvements – in his spare time around work projects.
That has meant progress has been slower than he may have liked at times, but there has been plenty of interest nonetheless.
Around 150 clubs have a presence on Rally already, with plenty more waiting in the wings that Campbell intends to contact, and some of the things that they have been asking for are in the pipeline.
“I’m spending a lot of time on it – pretty much half my working life is working on rally, and the other half I can just about money scrape by with the paid work,” Campbell said.
“A lot of teams are really invested in Rally, they think it’s a great idea – they just want more features. A lot of people see the app and they get on it and they really like what they see, but there’s not much movement going on. I need a bit more time and maybe even some money to make it happen, but hopefully with new features coming out people will be able to connect more and do more stuff and it should take off.
“I really believe that it has this potential to do well and if it’s got the features it will work. I know a lot of people come in and say they really like the app, but they can’t do the things they want to do in it – so then it becomes tricky, but it’s a work in progress.
“At the moment there’s a directory of teams, so you can find local teams and local events in your city or anywhere in the world.
“In London, we’ve got something like 40 teams now set up and you can go in and you can see what they’re doing. You can find information to join their events, you can see that some of them have a weekly football practice or whatever.
“On an individual level, you can create a profile and if you want to you can say ‘hey, I’m interested in doing sports’. You can post and people can reply, you can chat to people and you can kind of make friends.
“The features that people keep asking about are creating their own events, which at the moment only teams can do. I think once people can start creating events, then you can start chatting with people, people can join the conversation, things can start moving forward that way.
“Teams are also talking about wanting to manage everything in the space. They want to be able to have membership management, they want to be able to pay for pitches and pay for different things that they need to do within the app, and sell merchandise in the app.
“They want it to be a place where they can have all of their visibility, but in a context with other teams as well. Let’s say one rugby team is playing a match against another one – they want to be able to have a group chat where the two teams can interact and chat together in that social space. Maybe their members can even watch and see what’s going on as well.
“There’s a bunch of stuff still to come, and at some point I do want it to become not just an LGBTQ+ platform actually, but for any inclusive sports teams.
“Basically I want Rally to be a place for anyone that says we make a determined effort to make sure that everyone feels welcome and everyone feels a part of this, regardless of your background. So at some point, hopefully we’ll be able to get some more teams on that aren’t necessarily straight up LGBTQ+.”
Community at the forefont
The inspiration for Rally came from a communal experience hiking in the mountains, and Campbell has made a concerted effort to keep that ethos at the forefront of his project.
He has already resisted suggestions that he felt would have risked taking advantage of people, and he hopes it can open up new doors for people who may not think there is much going on in their area.
“The goal was to create a space which celebrates LGBTQ sports, and enable people to find people to play sports with, get out there, do stuff, make new friends, and get healthy at the same time,” he stressed.
“I’m really conscious of the fact that I don’t want this app to ever be a detriment to the LGBTQ sports community, and I don’t want that community to pay for this. It’s paid for by someone else, whether that’s advertisers or sponsorship.
“That’s a really important part, but in that sense it’s quite difficult getting funding because a lot of the investors want this to be something which just rinses money out the community – and that’s not on the roadmap, I don’t want that to happen.
“I really believe that in the LGBTQ sports community, everyone’s putting in hours of their time there. It’s a really wholesome, beautiful scene, and the thought of treating that like it’s a marketable commodity just makes me feel a bit sick.
“A lot of teams are really wary when they speak to me. They don’t want to be on the platform, and when I try and explain to them that I’m a good guy, and I’ve got good intentions, they’re kind of like ‘well, everyone says that and everyone sells out’, and so it’s tricky.
“There are a lot of teams who have straight up said to me they’re not even interested in having a conversation, which I understand and I think once they see the app running, hopefully they’ll they want to be part of it.
“I know there’s one guy from the International FrontRunners in Edinburgh who set up a wild swimming club. One of the things he says is that was partly inspired by Rally, because that was something he saw teams doing and thought he can do himself, and it’s that simple. It can take five minutes to set up and then suddenly you’ve got an advert to the rest of the world.
“I do like the idea of people being in these really remote places where you don’t have much going on then going into the app and seeing that there’s someone nearby who’s also saying they’re in for something. You say let’s just meet up halfway and have this idea that people actually can really hone in on.
“What I want to show is that these teams are open to everyone. I’m not really interested in these sports teams who are saying ‘you can come and watch us but we’ve got a special elite team’. That’s good for you, but that’s not what this is about.
“This is about teams that are saying our arms are open, you can come play with us. You can know nothing and we’re going to show you the ropes. You’re going to meet a bunch of people who are like a family and they love each other and they do stuff together all the time.
“All of a sudden you’re transformed into being a part of that family, welcomed with open arms and you’ve got this base of people. It’s good for your mental health, it’s good for your physical health and it’s good for your LGBTQ connections.
“You may meet friends that are not just people you met in a bar. Sport is just an incredible force, and especially within our community I think it deserves all the attention.”
Campbell isn’t just creating a space for others to thrive off of – he is putting his money where his mouth is too.
One of his goals is to go around every club on Rally and take part in whatever sport it is they do. Rugby, boxing, netball and running have already been ticked off the list with handball coming soon, and he has had nothing but positive things to say about all of them.
“In the UK I think we’re up to something like 600 inclusive teams, and I’m going to go to each and every one of them – I don’t care what it is,” Campbell insisted.
“I’ve done a bunch of stuff that I’ve never touched before, and every one of them has been brilliant, I’ve enjoyed it so much. When I went Boxing, I was punching the shit out of this punch bag, and the guy was just like ‘what are you doing? That’s not how you do boxing’.
“So I’ve been learning about what that’s like, and when I was playing netball I pretty much tore something in my groin because I’ve never actually twisted that much in my life.
“In all of them I was terrified, I was so nervous and I came away from rugby covered in bruises. When I did FrontRunners in London, I wanted to keep up with the organisers, and they are obviously professional runners. I couldn’t even talk and they were just talking for an hour while I was trying to keep up with them.
“It’s beautiful, you’re nervous and you’re not really sure what to do, but all of them make sure that you’re okay. That’s something I really want to push in the app as well – you might look at something and think that’s a great idea, but there’s something in all of these teams to say if you’re new, we’re going to make sure that we give you a bit of attention. They’ll make sure that you know what you’re doing, and you feel comfortable.
“No one talks about that, and I want the app to be able to say it’s this easy, you can get involved and you’re going to have a good time, so just go and do it.
“I’ve found actually it tricky to get involved in team sports personally just because of time, but when you see the team working together and you see that dynamic, it’s so different from running teams, from climbing teams and sports that you do individually.
“You realise that you’re a key component of that team, and that people are relying on you, then you’re learning each other’s abilities and that’s so great, so interesting.
“It’s definitely something I can’t wait to explore a little bit. That absolutely surprised me, and also the way people teach each other.
“I’m used to going hiking where I might be the most experienced person in the group and I’m explaining a little bit about how it goes, but then within a team people are actually saying ‘no, you shouldn’t be here, you should be here’ and moving you around. They’re teaching you the little tricks, and everyone knows different things, so it’s really interesting.
“A lot of these sports are highly competitive, kind of aggressive, and as these teams scale up they become more aggressive and they become more competitive. One of the things I love about LGBTQ+ sports is that the level is completely different. You’ve got these rugby teams, and they can be aggressive, but you know that they care about you and that there’s not that edge of real aggression and anger.
“You might have this guy running at you and it’s terrifying, but then at the same time, he’s kind of got a little smile on his face, and in the photos at the end everyone’s hugging each other and having a great time and we get a drink and it just feels so wholesome and nice. For me, that’s everything.”