The Melbourne Unicorns and Melbourne University will make history on 1 May in world-first community rugby pride matches.

The rainbow-themed games have been held by professional teams around the world since 2001, including professional teams in all major North American leagues. The UK’s Harlequins holding the first one in rugby. A pride match has never been held at a community rugby club.

The LGBTQ community is an important part of the Melbourne Rugby Club, who have hosted the Melbourne Chargers team since 2012. The Melbourne Chargers formed in 2009 with the purpose of creating a rugby team where new players could learn the game in an accepting environment and players who had left the sport because of their sexuality could play openly.

“Having the Chargers as part of our club has helped us focus more on inclusion. Rugby has always been open to people of all shapes and sizes, all races, religions and genders. Now we are improving the way we interact with people of all sexualities and gender identities. Hosting the Pride Cup is a great start and we’ve backed that up with education sessions with our leadership groups in the Seniors, Colts, Women’s and U18s teams,” said Tyrone Landsman, the long-time president of Melbourne RUFC.

Pride games are held to raise awareness of the discrimination that LGBTQ people experience in sport. Research has found homophobic banter and jokes that remain common in sport is a key factor in high rates of suicide for LGBTQ kids (3-5 times higher).

A global study by the World Health Organisation also found girls as young as 10 years of age were avoiding playing traditionally male dominated sports like rugby, cricket, or AFL because they didn’t’t want to be stereotyped as a lesbian.

“We were shocked to hear about the harm caused to kids by homophobic banter and jokes and also about the stigma that female athletes still experience,” added Tyrone. “We hope these matches can help raise awareness of these issues. And our leadership group can help bring about change – not just in our own club, but across the rugby community.”

Research released last year by Monash University found players on teams that hold Pride Cups use around 50 percent less homophobic language than at other clubs and they also use less sexist and racist banter. Female players at these clubs also report feeling more equal to the males and also more connected.

“More research is needed to understand how these games seem to deliver so many benefits. We think hosting a Pride Cup game helps to start conversations about the kind of language and culture people want at their community sports club. These conversations are often avoided because they are uncomfortable,” said Professor Richard Pringle from the Faculty of Education at Monash University.

Nuala O’Connor is the captain of the Melbourne Women’s team, one of the three teams that will be playing for a Pride Cup on the day.

“I think holding a pride game will help to start conversations about how homophobic and sexist banter affect everyone and needs to stop. We also need to talk about how to work together to change the stereotypes of female athletes. This affects not only the gay community, but everyone.”

She continues, “I moved from Ireland last year and I’m not aware of us holding events like these. These are issues that are not often openly discussed. I hope we can inspire rugby clubs around the world to host pride games and start doing more to address these problems.”

The first-ever community rugby Pride Cup will be hosted by Melbourne Rugby Club on Saturday 1 May at Orrong Romanis Reserve, Prahran. There are three Pride Cups up for grabs.

The first match starts at 11:30 am with the Chargers taking on Cerberus; followed by the Melbourne Women’s team competing against Melbourne University at 1:30 pm; and then a huge match of the round at 3:15 pm when the Melbourne 1st XV take on Melbourne University. Matches will be live streamed on the Rugby Victoria Facebook page.