London sports clubs dedicated to diversity and inclusion continue their journey to create a safe space for those within the LGBTQ+ community.
Although there is a growing awareness of the issues being faced around homophobia in sports with various campaigns to end discrimination, there are still some concerns.
Recently, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly addressed LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar, sparking outrage from the British public ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
He said: “I think it’s important, when you’re visiting a country, that you respect the culture of your host nation.”
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and while the nation has ensured that no traveling fans will face any sanctions currently imposed on its own people, the question arises as to why the tournament was brought to this nation in the first instance.
Fortunately, the UK, and London in particular, has a wide variety of sports clubs that exclusively welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community, in a friendly and safe environment.
One such club is the London Royals, a Wapping-based hockey team that is at the forefront of strengthening inclusion in the capital and beyond.
Club Chairman Andy Elton spoke about the history and rise of LGBTQ+ sport in the UK.
He said: “We are the largest LGBTQ+ hockey club in the UK and the second largest in the world, celebrating our 16th.the birthday next year.”
However, promoting LGBTQ+ clubs can be problematic, especially when homophobia they can sneak in and inflict a security threat.
He continued: “We promoted ourselves by handing out flyers in bars and clubs, before taking to social media to spread the word.
“Between that and people searching on Google and hearing word of mouth, we’ve built a base of almost 450 active members.
“We have received great support from England Hockey over the past three years, with a strong focus on diversity and inclusion.”
The London Royals not only pride themselves on being a great network of talented hockey players, but the club’s family feel sets it apart from the rest.
He continued: “We are planning a big sports day next April to promote equality and get a lot of people involved in sport. We also organize events related to Pride, Eurovision and Christmas so that our members feel like part of a family.
“We encourage people to come to the training sessions which are free. We can provide the kits and there is always a positive atmosphere in training and matches.”
Andy is also a member of Out For Sport, which is an organization that brings together members of the LGBTQ+ community through a variety of sports.
Nike recently awarded grants to help fund test and training sessions for younger members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The contribution, which totaled around £7,500, is a huge boost in boosting youth participation.
The Royals will travel to Bern next July to participate in the EuroGames, an event geared towards LGBTQ+ participants, and it is estimated that there will be more than 3,000 participants as the annual event, which began in 1992, comes to Switzerland.
Another colossal London LGBTQ+ sports association is the Goslings badminton club.
Training at multiple locations across the capital, the club is another prime example of diversity and inclusion in British sport.
Goslings Chairman Ubaid-ul Rehman spoke about the birth of such an influential club in London, reflecting on the darkest days for the LGBTQ+ community.
He said: “The club was set up in the 1980s at a time when the AIDS epidemic was raging in the UK.
“People needed a safe space to come together, not feel abused, learn something new, network and share their stories.
“The LGBTQ+ community lived in an environment where discrimination was rampant, but the club helped form a bond that grew stronger and stronger over the years.”
The club had lost many young talents as a result of the epidemic, but an unbreakable bond blossomed and the club continues to grow today.
Now with over 200 members, the club dominates the badminton world and participation is growing thanks to social media and promotional assistance from organizations such as Out For Sport and Badminton England.
Quite significant, at present, is the continued strengthening of the diversity and inclusion rate in football.
The Premier League has strongly promoted the Rainbow Laces Campaignwhich demonstrates its commitment to supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and the anti-discrimination organization Kick It Out allow those who witness any racist or homophobic speech on soccer fields to report it through an application.
Grassroots football is tremendously welcoming to those in the LGBTQ+ community and one such club is Soho FC, with player and manager Austin Chessell explaining the rise of LGBTQ+ friendly football.
He said: “The club started with some small kicks in 2013. Only eight people showed up, but now in 2022 we have three teams of 11 a side.
“During COVID, you could still play soccer when certain restrictions were lifted. People wanted to go out and watch sports after lockdown, so a lot of people got in touch.”
The club competes in the London Unity League, in the spirit that the general environment is a safe space for all.
Talking about the upcoming World Cup and the difficulties associated with it, he said: “It is a time for the club to come together.
“We are lucky that there are pubs and bars that support us where we can watch the games together in a friendly atmosphere.
“We have many activities and reasons for people to join us. It’s not just about football, but also about friendships.”
It’s quite an imperative time to speak out about the general attitude towards diversity in sport, and with the foreign secretary’s controversial comments, many may feel uncomfortable in the tone of those responsible. However, it is important to note that there are many welcoming sports clubs throughout the country and a list of them can be found at: LGBTQ+ Club Finder | pride sports.
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