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Gay Rugby Team Founder Gets Spotlight at World Cup

Gay Rugby Team Founder Gets Spotlight at World Cup

Rugby team and Cyril Leroy

Cyril Leroy, founder of Les Galliards in France, was official ball carrier for the Rugby World Cup's opening match Friday, and he will appear in TV commercials during the tournament.

The founder of France’s first gay rugby team was honored before the first game of the Rugby World Cup Friday in Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris.

The French Rugby Federation (Fédération Française de Rugby) named Cyril Leroy, founder of Les Galliards, official ball carrier for the match, Leroy posted on Instagram. The role is largely ceremonial, but it’s nonetheless significant.

“It’s a big symbol,” Leroy told Outsports before the match. “We’ll have the opening ceremony, and President Macron and other dignitaries will be in the stadium, so I’m really pleased.”

“The FFR wants to show it’s serious about all forms of diversity, not just LGBTQ,” he noted. “I’ve been chosen for this game, and others have been invited to be ball He carriers for later matches.

He founded Les Galliards — the name means “tough guys” — in 2003. Rugby had been his favorite sport since his childhood. “I really wanted to play, but there was no gay team for that,” he told Outsports. “So I decided to create one from scratch.” There are now other gay rugby teams in France, for both men and women.

Many LGBTQ+ rugby fans were inspired to create teams because of news coverage of the first Bingham Cup tournament, International Gay Rugby’s championship, in 2002. It was named for Mark Bingham, a gay man who played for the San Francisco Fog rugby team and died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. United Flight 93 was bound from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, but terrorists hijacked the plane, intending to crash it in Washington, D.C. But Bingham and other passengers stormed the cockpit and assured it crashed in rural Pennsylvania instead of into a government site. Everyone on board was killed.

Les Galliards went to the Bingham Cup in London in 2004. The club and other gay rugby teams have gained recognition and respect over the years.

Leroy’s honor at the opening of the World Cup shows the federation’s “commitment to inclusion and rugby for all,” he said.

“I’m proud to be part of that history, not for my ego but for gay rugby, which I’ve loved being involved in for so many years,” he noted. “I never thought 20 years ago when I started Les Gaillards that I would be at the stadium on a night like this. And it’s important that people know we exist, especially young people. When I grew up, I didn’t have any openly gay role models.”

The only gay man known to have played in a Rugby World Cup is Gareth Thomas of Wales, but he was not out at the time.

“I can understand that it’s really complicated for someone in their career,” Leroy said in the Outsports interview. We all have our own journey, and it’s not always easy to say you’re gay.”

But he has given more visibility to gay people in the sport with his appearance at the opening match, and he will also appear in TV commercials for Land Rover during the World Cup, which continues into October in France.

“Hopefully when people see me in the adverts or when I carry the ball tonight, they will learn that there’s a club and a sport that will welcome you,” he said.

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