They are South Australia’s first gay and inclusive rugby team and the nation’s fifth, joining the Sydney Convicts, Melbourne Chargers, Brisbane Hustlers and Perth Rams.
Peter Stephens was the visionary who was determined to bring the inclusive game of rugby union to Adelaide. He founded the Sharks, who play third grade for host club Adelaide University, to give everyone the opportunity to feel welcomed into team sport.
Since forming last year, the team has provided people from the LGBTQ+ community and its allies with the chance to play sport in an accepting environment.
Captain Kane Van Diermen is one of the many players who finally feels accepted within a sporting environment.
Van Diermen grew up in a sporting household, with both his brother and dad involved in basketball and Australian Rules Football.
He joined the Sharks at the start of this year, having played for another suburban rugby club before, as well as for both the Convicts and Chargers.
After initially being sceptical of Stephens’ plans to create the team, Van Diermen is thrilled to have been part of a team promoting diversity in Adelaide, as they contribute to the “world-wide gay rugby movement.”
“All clubs are there to win but with this club, a majority of the boys have never played before, never even picked up a rugby ball,” Van Diermen says.
“To go through this experience with a bunch of boys, they’re all learning and everyone’s there to have fun and we’ve established a small community.
“It’s a supporting environment where people can learn to play sport, and learn to be around other gay men that in a community way, that Adelaide probably hasn’t seen before. It’s really great to be part of.”
The 33-year-old described sport as being a “scary place” for gay men, but felt accepted in rugby; describing himself as a converted “rugby person” thanks to the Sharks.
“I wish we lived in a world where it wasn’t an issue, and there was no need for this but I suppose the establishment of these special interest clubs is an indicator of us not being there yet.
“It’s engaging a whole portion of the population that are currently disengaged in a huge element of our society. Weekend sports are one of the cornerstones of our culture but a significant portion of Australia may not feel that that’s an inclusive space.
“The establishment of these rainbow sporting clubs makes sports accessible to people who may not have had access to sport previously.”
Sharks player and committee member, Cameron Forster, had a similar experience playing Australian Rules before he played rugby.
“I got to the point where I was getting a bit older and I didn’t feel like it was an inclusive space, and I didn’t feel as comfortable in that environment,” Forster reflected.
“When I left AFL, I didn’t play any team sports for a number of years, just mixed netball socially with some friends.”
It was when he was living in London that Forster heard about the Sharks and what they were trying to achieve in Adelaide.
Now involved in scrums, lineouts and other parts of the game that were new to him not too long ago, the second-row is thoroughly enjoying being part of the team environment and what it represents.
“When I heard about the new team starting up, I thought that this would be a really cool way to get involved and be part of that inclusive team, to meet likeminded individuals and work towards that common goal of winning in a team environment.”
The Sharks’ quest for diversity has grown by leaps and bounds since the team was founded, with the team truly transcending what it means to be inclusive in rugby.
Elijah Bedson became the first trans front-row player in Australia, having played for the Sharks in July. Forster described Bedson’s inclusion as a proud moment for the team and the sport.
“He was the first trans front-rower to play in Australia. He got a gender dispensation to play in that position, which was really special for the Sharks and quite a proud moment for us to celebrate diversity and inclusivity.
“For him to have a position and a part within the community and the team, it builds the fabric of the team, it makes it stronger and it’s what we’re all about.”
Head coach Dan McDowell elaborated on how the community received the team, gladly saying that the Sharks’ host club in Adelaide University RUFC welcomed them with open arms.
McDowell added that he’s thrilled to see his players enjoying everything that the culture of rugby has to offer, both on and off the field.
“It’s a family culture, it’s a gentlemen’s game that is built on respect. That’s what the fundamentals of the game are, respect the players, respect your opponents, respect everyone. That’s how the club is,” McDowell said.
“They’re really starting to experience what rugby creates off the field as well as on. The comradery at the pub on a Saturday night, where a bunch of guys who normally wouldn’t hang out together are.”
After making their competitive debut a few weeks ago, the Sharks are now setting their sights towards the Purchas Cup, which is the annual Australasian Gay Rugby tournament, and the Bingham Cup.
The Bingham Cup brings more than 180 teams together in a World Cup for gay and inclusive rugby teams.
If the team qualifies as a member of International Gay Rugby, then they’ll compete as Adelaide’s first representatives.
The next instalment of the competition was set to be held in Ottawa, Canada, later this year, but due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, will now be held in the same city in August, 2022.
But for now, the team appears firmly focused on playing while breaking down barriers as they assure others that rugby is a game for everyone.
Photo credit: Adelaide University Sharks