IGR Union Cup organisers target the feelgood factor in three-day event

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Organisers of Europe’s biggest inclusive rugby union tournament will tap into Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games feelgood factor when the city hosts the IGR Union Cup.

Four years after bidding for the event and two years on from when Birmingham should have staged it, 47 LGBTQ+ teams – 1400 players from more than 10 countries – will descend on Perry Barr Stadium.

The three-day competition, which has a tiered structure for players of all levels, starts on Friday.

It also sees the return of a women’s programme, which includes a masterclass training day taken by former England World Cup-winning coaches Gary Street and Graham Smith.

And there will be a familiar sight of kitted-out volunteers, with many of them returning after playing their part during the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

“Birmingham has an outstanding reputation for staging major events,” Union Cup organising committee chair James Anthony told the PA news agency.

“We’ve been really lucky in terms of volunteers. We have got over 100 of them, and in a real legacy of the Commonwealth Games, about half of them were involved last year.

“They have got the bug for volunteering at sports events, which has been a huge help to us.”

Four-figure crowds are expected, with Birmingham being the competition’s ninth host city as it returns following a four-year absence due to the Covid pandemic.

“The first tournament took place in 2005 in Montpellier, when I think only three or four teams from Europe competed, so it has developed significantly since then,” Anthony added.

“It is the biggest inclusive tournament in Europe, and one of the biggest rugby events in terms of people participating at one time in the country.

“We’ve got teams from Israel, Spain, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Sweden, as well as a very large contingent from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

“There are a number of tiers based on clubs’ previous performances, with eight of them competing in the top tier for the Union Cup, with three tiers sitting below that.

“And the range is incredible as we’ve got clubs that only started during and after Covid, along with clubs like Kings Cross Steelers, who won the Bingham Cup global event last year and are Harlequins’ official inclusion partner club.”

Gareth Thomas
Gareth Thomas will be among the opening ceremony speakers (Lia Toby/PA)

“One of the things that LGBTQ+ clubs are very good at is bringing new people into the sport,” Anthony said.

“At my club, the Birmingham Bulls, I would say half of our players hadn’t played rugby in any serious way other than when they were at school, and we also get a lot of people coming into rugby for the first time, some in their 30s and 40s.

“And I would say to anyone looking to take up rugby to find their local IGR (International Gay Rugby) team, because they are so welcoming. A lot of clubs also have well-developed touch rugby teams, so you can find your space and give it a go.

“And you don’t have to live in a major urban area to take part in these things. There are clubs springing up in all parts of the country, and that makes a huge difference.”

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