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The idea of a professional gay athlete has somehow always encountered resistance and controversy within the sports community. Stereotypes can define the performance of an athlete as well as their suitability in sports. It was this discomfort twelve years ago that pushed a few gay rugby players in Toronto into deciding to put together the first gay-friendly rugby team in the city.

Established in 2003, the Muddy York RFC primarily competes against ‘straight’ teams in the Toronto Rugby Union. The club also travels for exhibition matches against other gay teams, hosts the annual Beaver Bowl Tournament and every two years participates in the Bingham Cup, an international competition featuring gay sides from several unions worldwide.

John Jeffery, Muddy York RFC president and a veteran player, believes the city still needs a gay-friendly team. “I started playing rugby in school. At that time I wasn’t contemplating coming out, I just wanted to play but jokes were everywhere, teenagers can be really mean,” he said while watching the team practice at the Jarvis Collegiate Ground. “But things have changed, more and more youngsters now feel free to manifest their sexuality in schools and sport teams,” he added.

As a hub in the Church and Wellesley village, Muddy York RFC is open to all levels of players and sexual orientation and offers a reliable platform for newcomers trying to build a social life in a new city.

Canada is now host to three all-gay rugby teams after the Montreal Armada recently joined the Ottawa Wolves and Muddy York. The Vancouver Rogues, the first of it’s kind, dissolved a few years ago after players felt that they had successfully brought awareness to the issue of inclusion and now play on mixed teams.

Photos by Giovanni Capriotti

A rugby ball and a phone with a Gareth Thomas wallpaper lies on the pitch at Jarvis Collegiate Ground in Toronto. Thomas was the first gay professional rugby player to come out.

Muddy York RFC warms up at Jarvis Collegiate.

Danny Perez plays for Muddy York RFC and is the vice president of the club.

Muddy York runs through practice tackles and impacts during one of their bi-weekly workouts.

Coach Eric Demarbre and captain Jimmy Karttunen.

Jean Paul Markides and partner Kasimir Kosakowski chat on the balcony of their Toronto condo. Both men play for Muddy York.

John Jeffery helps team members collect equipment after practice.

Flavio Henrique (bottom right) fights for a line out during a game against the Toronto Dragons.

Players from Muddy York and the Oakville Crusaders compete in a drinking game at the Crusaders Rugby Clubhouse in Oakville, Ontario.

Players Andrew Hsueh and John Jeffery share a laugh as Jeffrey shows a picture of himself from 20 years ago.

Muddy York forwards push the scrum at Jarvis Collegiate Ground in Toronto. A solid scrum is a key feature for a rugby team.

Players toast after practice at O'Grady's pub in downtown Toronto.

Jeffery and teammate Andrew MacDonald hang out on Church Street in Toronto. The Church and Wellesley Village is the team's logistic headquarters.

Player Marc Godin looks at the Pride flag that teammate Andrew Hsueh is waving at Jeffery's Toronto condo. Muddy York is preparing for the annual Pride celebration.

Muddy York gathers before the kick off for a match against the Oakville Crusaders.

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