International rugby tournament kicks off in Ottawa to honour 9/11 hero, support LGBTQ rights


The world’s largest amateur rugby tournament has its opening ceremonies in Ottawa Wednesday, with more than 1,700 players from 20 countries participating.

What sets this biennial tournament — the Bingham Cup — apart from others, is the fact it has become a world cup of gay and inclusive rugby.

This is the tourney’s 10th anniversary, and is being held in Canada for the first time. 

The Bingham Cup is named after Mark Bingham, a rugby player who died on Sept. 11, 2001, when he and a group of passengers attempted to overpower a group of hijackers on United Flight 93. The hijackers intended to crash the plane into a Washington, D.C., target but it ended up crashing into a Pennsylvania field killing all on board, including Bingham.

The Bingham Cup honours both his heroism and his devotion to promoting LGBTQ causes, according to his closest friend Amanda Mark, an Australian citizen who is in Ottawa for the tournament. 

He became a hero that day, tackling the hijackers, taking out that plane and saving potentially thousands of other Americans.– Amanda Mark, speaking about Mark Bingham

“He became a hero that day, tackling the hijackers, taking out that plane and saving potentially thousands of other Americans on that day but he was also an avid rugby player so that’s why we’re here,” Mark told Hallie Cotnam on Ottawa Morning Tuesday. 

The tournament’s inclusiveness translates to the competition on the field too, with participants of all skill levels, according to Jean-Francois Laberge, president of Ottawa’s Bingham Cup organizing committee.

“A lot of people will not realize the scale of it. It starts off with getting the hosting rights. In 2018, the Ottawa Wolves, Ottawa’s only gay and inclusive team, flew to Amsterdam to present our bid to get the hosting rights and after that we set about the business of putting the tournament on.”

The tourney features a women’s cup as well, named after Amanda.

“We’ve been trying to build up a women’s tournament to make it truly inclusive … it’s equivalent to the Bingham Cup because we’re all about equality and inclusiveness and it’s named in my honour so I’m very privileged to have that honour,” said Mark. 

Tackling trans inclusivity too

A big part of inclusivity in rugby is the place of trans athletes, and to that end, the Bingham Cup includes a summit that will tackle the issues surrounding trans athlete participation in rugby, said Laberge.

“We’re going to gather the top sport researchers, academics, legal minds and also leaders from the sport in Canada and we have international attendees from everywhere to address and tackle transphobia and homophobia in the sport,” Laberge said.

“Because, unfortunately, there’s a handful of people who are pushing an exclusionary narrative right now … I have heard, time and again, prejudicial and bigoted views being advanced citing safety, fairness, it is what it is at the end of the day. It’s exclusion and it comes from people that have not played rugby.” 

The Bingham Cup runs until Aug. 21 with games beginning Thursday at the Hornets Nest soccer park in Blackburn Hamlet. OC Transpo is running shuttle buses from Blair LRT stations every five minutes, with games on all seven fields starting on the hour, according to Laberge.

Admission is free.



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