Chris Verrijdt (right) and Anthony Seger
Chris Verrijdt, chairperson of South African gay rugby club, Jozi Cats, has been elected to the Executive Committee of International Gay Rugby (IGR).
His selection is a major achievement for inclusive rugby in South Africa, especially considering that Johannesburg’s Jozi Cats was only founded three years ago. The club was also only accredited to IGR in March, making it the organisation’s first African member.
IGR consists of primarily gay and inclusive rugby clubs, with more than 70 members from around the world. It promotes equality and diversity in rugby, in particular the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or identification.
Verrijdt was elected to the Executive Committee to represent international gay rugby in the “Rest of the World,” including Africa, South America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s a huge responsibility,” Verrijdt told Mambaonline. “It’s amazing to have a voice for the rest of the world on the IGR board. They work incredibly closely with World Rugby, specifically around transgender rights and making the whole game of rugby inclusive”.
He explained that his position on the committee aims to give inclusive and gay rugby clubs outside of Europe and North America “an opportunity to be more represented and to give a voice to the rest of the world.”
The 2018 Bingham Cup in Amsterdam
Verrijdt said many of the challenges facing inclusive rugby clubs across the globe are similar. “Money is always the biggest thing; the clubs need funding to pay for fields, pay for coaches, pay for kits…”
He believes that his election will help local inclusive rugby by providing “access to a brain trust; for example, we now have direct access to [the expertise of] the UK’s Steelers, the first inclusive rugby club that’s been going for 20 years, and the Sydney Convicts; they’ve been going for 15 years. There’s an opportunity to tap into these resources, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.”
Verrijdt was the mastermind behind Jozi Cat’s groundbreaking 2016 “Rugby That’s So Gay!” campaign which launched the club to South Africa and the world, drawing international attention. As a public relations professional he hopes, as a member of the IGR executive, to advise clubs on promotion, including running social media campaign.
His election to the committee was part of IGR’s annual general meeting, held in Amsterdam last month, just before the organisation’s Bingham Cup; the biennial world championships of gay and inclusive rugby.
The Bingham Cup was first held in 2002 in memory of 9/11 gay rugby hero Mark Bingham, one of the passengers who fought back against hijackers on board United flight 93. The 2018 event included more than 2000 players and was won by the Sydney Convicts. Jozi Cats had hoped to field a team at the event, but was unable to take part due to a lack of funds.
The Sydney Convicts won the Cup
“To see the level of rugby that was being played astounded me,” said Verrijdt, who attended the event with Jozi Cats Communication Manager and Community Liaison, Anthony Seger. “The vibe was incredible. This really was next level.”
He was also deeply affected watching players come off the field and embrace their loved ones or friends without hesitation, as well as the support given to women’s rugby players at the tournament. “There was just a feeling that it was an overwhelming safe space. It was kind of like a Utopian idea of fully inclusive rugby.”
In time, Verrijdt would like to see the Bingham Cup being held in South Africa. “That would be first prize, but there’s a lot of heavy lifting we need to do before we can do that.”
For more information on Jozi Cats, visit the club’s website.