Practicing at Donkin Reserve
A fledgling LGBTI rugby club in Nelson Mandela Bay has been stopped from playing on municipal-run grounds and has been stonewalled in their efforts to find another public venue.
Last Sunday, a meeting of the NMB LGBTI Touch Rugby club ended in frustration and disappointment when five members playing informally at the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth were effectively banned from the venue.
According to Cameron Cordell from the OUT!ology Network, who helped found the amateur rugby club four months ago, the group were approached by a Metro Police official in mid practice. They were told that a complaint had been made by the municipality and that they could no longer play there.
Cordell, who said that the club had been practicing at the park since its formation without any problems, was informed that according to a municipal by law no more 10 people could gather on the grounds.
He pointed out, however, that when approached by the official only five members were taking part in the practice session, and that there is no signage about this apparent rule at the venue. Cordell said that another group playing soccer at the park was allowed to continue to do so.
He told Mambaonline that since the incident he has been given a series of other reasons for not being allowed to play at municipal parks and fields. These include that ball games may not be played there, that players get in people’s way and that they are damaging the grounds.
“Which we are not,” said Cordell. “We kept to ourselves in a corner of the field and threw a ball to each other and played touch rugby. It is concerning to us that we were the only ones asked to leave when others were playing soccer on the same field at the same time. We are every disappointed and disheartened.”
Cordell contacted the municipality to request permission to continue to play at Donkin Reserve (which he described as ideal because it is accessible and safe) or for an alternative municipal venue that the group could use. He says that he’s been met with disinterest and curt, negative responses. “The municipality is not allowing us to practice anywhere. No public park and no sporting facilities,” he said.
“There has not been any overt homophobia but what I have noticed is that they are at first receptive but when I mention that it’s an LGBTI team then suddenly the tone of messages gets really short and everything shuts down immediately after.”
Cordell is particularly frustrated that the municipality has shown no interest in supporting or assisting the group. “We’re not causing trouble or anything – we’re trying to get an LGBTI community initiative going. Initiatives like this help the whole LGBTI community; they allow people who are coming out or in the closet to take part in a sport and show them that there is support available.
“We want to work with the municipality in developing a healthy, diverse and inclusive LGBTI community in Nelson Mandela Bay, not against it, and the municipality should be supporting and not obstructing the work of NPOs operating in the area,” said Cordell.
Mambaonline spoke to an official at the Parks & Cemeteries department who was unable to explain why the group had been turned away from the park and said that there should have been no issue with the club playing informally there. He noted, however, that more formal sports groups should make use of sporting facilities.
In an email from Kobus van Zyl, Acting Deputy Director of Sport & Recreation, Cordell was told that the municipality’s sporting ground were not available to them. Van Zyl said that the department was not in a position to assist the group “because the fields under our control are fully booked and utilized by all the different sporting codes that usually use it. Over usage will deprive these sporting codes of well maintained sports facilities.”
On Friday, following a week of frustration, the club found a new venue to practice at; Kemsley Park, a private rugby ground in Mount Croix, Port Elizabeth.
“While the municipality has merely obstructed us, it is great to see that the greater Port Elizabeth community has come together and helped to find us a place to continue,” said Cordell.
The NMB LGBTI Touch Rugby club’s next practice session will take place at Kemsley Park this Sunday at 10.am