Featured in the April/ May 2018 Travel Issue of Compete Magazine

This is the story of the New York City’s Gotham Knights Rugby Football Club (RFC) and its quest to travel to Amsterdam this June to participate in the 2018 Bingham Cup, the biennial world championship of gay and inclusive men’s and women’s rugby. This year’s Bingham Cup is being played June 8-10 but a full week’s activities are planned beginning on June 2 and running through the 11th.


Playing host for this year’s tournament are members of the Amsterdam Lowlanders RFC. They’re expecting an estimated 2,500 LGBTQ+ rugby players, staff, supporters and visitors from all over the world to join them for this event. With three divisions, in addition to the Bingham Cup there are also the Bingham Plate and the Bingham Bowl for divisional wins. And for the first time this year a women’s tournament will be included as part of the celebration.


One of the most violent sports still being played today, rugby is also considered to be one of the most inclusionary. With no real protective gear, bleeding for your team is seen as a badge of honor that has absolutely nothing to do with your sexual orientation or gender preference or identity, hence the familiar term, “give blood; play rugby.” And the various positions on the team enable players of all sizes and shapes to be valuable contributors to the game.


Many travel professionals are just now discovering that gay people play a wide variety sports on a highly competitive level that matches that of any professional athlete; also, the planning and organization of tournaments from local to international levels are handled by LGBTQ+ recreational athletes and their teams and organizations with little-to-no help from external travel professionals. That is starting to change, however.


During the full week that most ruggers will spend in Amsterdam, there’s plenty of time for experiencing the best of the city’s attractions – in addition to the canal cruises, walking and bike tours that showcase the unique architecture, famous tulips and magnificent art museums, who won’t want to participate in the Heineken Experience and take selfies with the Lady Gaga and Brad Pitt wax figures at the Amsterdam branch of Madame Tussauds?


Since winning the Bingham Plate at the 2016 Bingham Cup in Nashville, Tennessee, the Gotham Knights are a much stronger team than in 2016 and the club has its cap set to win the actual Bingham Cup this year. In addition to playing a grueling schedule of games – the tackle, ruck and maul part of the title – they’ve also been working tirelessly to raise the necessary funds through their annual drag show. This year’s show, “Drag Us to Bingham! Five Golden Years of Gotham Drag!” was held in April and all monies raised went back to the team to help pay for the trip.


While I’ve used the word “quest” for their Amsterdam trip, perhaps “pilgrimage” is more fitting. But to fully understand why, there’s a powerful and inspiring back-story for ruggers everywhere thanks to one gay man, Mark Kendall Bingham. In fact, the tournament’s official title is the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament although it’s better known as the Bingham Cup.


A graduate of the University of California/Berkley, Mark founded the Bingham Group, a successful public relations firm with offices in San Francisco and New York. But his real love was competitive rugby and in 2000 he was a founding member and team mate on the gay-inclusive rugby club, the San Francisco Fog. While on the east coast Mark had been discussing the founding of a new gay-inclusive rugby club in New York City with local rugby player Scott Glaessgen.


Sadly, it wasn’t long after those conversations that Mark boarded United Airlines flight 93 to attend a friend’s wedding. The date was September 11, 2001.


Mark is internationally acknowledged as one of the 38 passengers on the hijacked flight that stormed the cockpit on that fateful day, causing it to crash in a rural field outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania instead of its intended target. He had no idea when he boarded the plane that day that in the face of certain death, his innate courage would help save untold numbers of people, straight and gay alike!


Following Mark’s death, Glaessgen and other New York rugby players established the New York Gotham Knights RFC in 2001 and adopted blue and gold as team colors in honor of Mark’s Cal-Berkeley colors. In 2002 the Fog hosted the first Bingham Cup in San Francisco to honor their fallen hero. And in 2013 Compete Magazine changed the name of its oldest, most prestigious award from Athlete of the Year to the Mark Bingham Athlete of the Year. This is intended to honor Mark and gay athletes like him who are working to use their leadership positions to bring about diversity, inclusion, acceptance and equality for everyone through sports.

By Connie Wardman