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First gay rugby club in Latin America creates space in sports for LGBTQ+ community

Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I placed my foot on the grass. The crowd began chanting, and a sense of empowerment filled us. Ciervos Pampas healed so many wounds I carried from childhood, offering me a chance for a fresh start. 

  • 9 months ago
  • August 30, 2023
5 min read
Members of Ciervos Pampas compete in their rainbow socks in rugby tournaments in Latin America. | Photo courtesy of Ciervos Pampas Members of Ciervos Pampas compete in their rainbow socks in rugby tournaments in Latin America. | Photo courtesy of Ciervos Pampas
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Caio Varela was born in Brazil before moving to Argentina. He has a master’s degree in international relations and law, with extensive experience in management, political science, and policy planning and implementation. He is now the President of Ciervos Pampas, a rugby team that seeks to make people from the LGBTQ+ community more visible within the sport.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Inclusive Rugby was born in November 1995 with the formation of the first ever gay inclusive rugby union, the Kings Cross Steelers RFC. The foundation of the club sparked the beginning of a much larger gay inclusive rugby movement and the eventual creation of the International Gay Rugby Association and Board. There are some 85 inclusive rugby clubs in existence around the world today. Ciervos Pampas is the first LGBTQ+ rugby club in Latin America.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — When I joined the rugby club Ciervos Pampas, every time I stepped onto the field, my body filled with electricity. Upon an anti-xenophobic, anti-racist, and anti-homophobic platform, people began to take notice of club. They looked at the team members and questioned our sexuality. [Ciervos Pampas is the first sexually diverse rugby club in Latin America, committed to the human rights of LGBTQ+ people.]

Soon, they labeled us “the queer team,” but rather than be offended by it, the members of Ciervos Pampas chose to stand proudly, thinking deeply about they message we wanted to convey. So much debate exists in the world of sports. We wanted to create a safe space where everyone felt included. The rugby players do not ask permission to play. We occupy the field regardless. Every step I take toward the goal signifies taking a stand against those who refuse to give us space.

Discriminated against as a child, joining an anti-homophobic rugby team lit up my world

As a young boy, I grew up with a love for sports which followed me into adulthood. Yet, as a gay man, I faced so many obstacles trying out for teams. Long before I understood my sexuality, I felt like the odd one out at school. So often, teachers discourage me from playing. “It isn’t really for you,” they would say. Their energy felt unwelcoming, and I struggled to find my place within the sports I loved.

Ciervos Pampas began as a group of friends passing a rugby ball to one another on the beach, but they slowly assembled a team. Something exciting took place when they moved from the sand to a big practice field. More and more people began to show up.

When they finally held an open call for players, I leapt at the opportunity to join. I felt an eagerness to meet other passionate athletes and quickly, I knew I was home. In my rugby club, it feels like family. We support one another. Before every game, we gather around in our rainbow socks and chant together as a team.

An air of camaraderie and equality floats through the room, motivating us to do our very best when we step on the field. In time, Ciervos Pampas even created educational programming on things like gender identity, sexual orientation, racism, and xenophobia, all within the context of the sport of rugby.

Regardless of our struggles, we remain adamant about changing the tone of the sport 

When we played our first official tournament, it felt surreal. We knew we needed more training, but participating filled us with excitement. Historically, the LGBTQ+ community remained excluded. To finally compete amongst incredible players felt freeing. Adrenaline coursed through my veins as I placed my foot on the grass. The crowd began chanting, and a sense of empowerment filled us. Ciervos Pampas healed so many wounds I carried from childhood, offering me a chance for a fresh start. 

We have lived many intense moments together as a team, including the loss of a dear teammate. Having battled depression for a very long time, at just 22-years-old, our friend took his own life. In the farewell letter he left behind, he said that Ciervos Pampas was one of the best things that ever happened to him. The pain of that loss hit us incredibly hard, and we vowed to honor him with every single game played from that day forward.

On the field, donning our pink jerseys, blue shorts, and rainbow socks, our identity feels like a revolution. Historically, rugby revolves around sexist and macho ideologies. We fight against that by reinventing the tradition. On our team, we emphasize brotherhood and support. We build our own little healthy rituals, hoping to inspire those around us. After each training, we gather under a tree, start a fire, and cook burgers on the grill.

We invite the opposing team and share a meal and drinks. This enables us to forge connections beyond each other and embrace an even greater diversity. The world of sports is constantly transforming, and being part of that change makes me feel so grateful. Our vision remains simple: to build a place where anyone can do anything they set their heart to, in an environment where no hate is tolerated.

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