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22 June 2022

Racing With Pride recently hosted rugby team York RI Templars for a Pride celebration at York Racecourse. Here, their captain Andrew Malcolm-Neale talks about the experience of the day and what we can learn about at LGBT+ inclusion in sport.

Friday 10th June at York Racecourse, 3pm. Rainbow sleeves and stars charging down the course for the British EBF Supporting Racing With Pride Fillies’ Stakes, cheered on by a dozen rugby players. Fantastic! You’d never know, but it’s the colour scheme they’re cheering. Except the Captain, me, who has a good tip about the winner and is thrilled. Until he remembers someone’s about to interview him, and he’s meant to understand what’s going on. 

An amazing welcome

My team, the York RI Templars, was invited to join Racing With Pride at York Racecourse for the day and we had the best time and the most amazing welcome. We were invited because we are the local inclusive (for GBT+ and even straight players) rugby team, celebrating Pride in our third year as part of York RI RUFC. We exist to carve out a space in sport for people who for any of a number of reasons – lingering pasts and present – feel barriers to participation; we are a community to people who feel isolated in our city or uncomfortable in other teams’ cultures. Natural partners then to Racing With Pride in our shared mission to make sport open to all and vice versa

The racecourse were fantastically informed facilitators of this meeting of sports advocates, as Harriet Rochester for York set out: “This race day was a great opportunity during Pride Month to show our solidarity to the LGBT+ community – in sport, locally and beyond.” 

Allies and conversation starters

With a step change in the freedom to be yourself, many people may question why our groups exist. Whatever your sport, can you name five gay (not to mention the other letters) pro athletes? Those of us involved in sports know there’s more than that. 

Rugby has picked up this cause in a number of ways in recent years. Honourable mention goes first to the women’s game which has long been ahead on LGBT+ inclusion (great film ‘No Woman No Try’ for more). We play within the IGR which started in the UK 30 years ago (definitely watch ‘Steelers’ for the story) and has become a global network of teams. Many of those now also compete in Touch Rugby which allows mixed gender participation. World Rugby opened up funding for sports science studies to improve the scant evidence on trans athletes’ experience. Clubs put on set-piece events (‘Pride matches’) that many sports have embraced; social science showing they allow allies to affirm their friendship and are incredible launch pads for conversations at all levels of a sport (such as this one by Monash on ‘friendly’ slurs in the locker room How Harlequins made LGBT+ history with professional rugby union’s first Pride Game | Rugby Union News | Sky Sports). 

Our second-row Stephen puts it well: “LGBTQ+ visibility in sport is so important and events like this helps people feel comfortable being who they are, enjoying sports they love.” In-your-face visibility is the only way to engage all parts of a sport in those conversations. 

Impressed with racing’s inclusion attitude

The overlap with a Pride race day was irresistible! Comparing notes, we gained some great new perspectives. The conversations with people from across racing gave me confidence the motivation was there to get this right, with plenty of sincere questions about where barriers remain. The work done by Racing With Pride is clearly a hugely positive step for the sport and David Letts had some insightful answers to questions raised. As in all sports there’s a way to go in making sure all supporters get the message but, in general, we were impressed by the attitude to inclusion. Our guys totally took advantage of the chance to get up close and personal with racing from turn out and start line to winning post. Our winger Adam told me ‘with no experience of attending live horse racing it was fantastic to be immersed in a unique sport, the excitement was obvious throughout the day’. Reaching new people means finding them where they are and providing routes for them to start from scratch. Both organisations are invested in doing that using the well-documented power of networks to support LGBT+ people. 

The last word should go to Racing With Pride Chair, David Letts: “It was brilliant to partner with the British EBF and York Racecourse to host York RI Templars for a day at the races recently, helping to build cross-sport communities and learn from each other. Huge thanks are due to all who made this possible, including Mick Appleby and Fosnic Racing who supported through the use of Racing With Pride’s silks aboard Zim Baby, which really added a focal point for discussion throughout the day.” 

As for us, we look forward to keeping up the engagement! At any rate, I’m almost sure I promised to reinvest my winnings on part of a horse. 

Further coverage: Pride celebrations at York Racecourse with new rainbow racing silks | York Press

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