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Rediscovering my place in Rugby

Rediscovering my place in Rugby

Iain Shepherd (He/Him)14 Jul 2023 - 05:24
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In his first year, Jack shares his perspectives on joining the Convicts

At a time when identities are at the heart of public debate and discourse, a family like the Convicts is so important.
- Jack, Second Row player

Like many Sydney Convicts players, Jack questioned his place in rugby for many years. We're stoked to have Jack return to the field, playing regularly on our Second Row. This is Jack's story....

"Many of my earliest memories involve rugby. Staying up late with my dad to watch the Wallabies win the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Winning an under-9s grand final and scoring three tries in 2001. Running through the house when Australia finally beat the British and Irish Lions. Learning how to kick a mini-Gilbert with my dad and grandfather at a dusty park in Windsor. These memories were all joyful. To this day, rugby is one of my greatest passions, but I have been on a journey with the sport.

I played rugby all through high school, with and against some players who would go on to be top professionals. I stopped playing after I moved to university in Sydney, though. I also took up refereeing at age fourteen and thrived. I had many opportunities to take refereeing further throughout the last decade, but I could never quite bring myself to take that step.

When I reflect on why I stopped playing, and why I never quite kicked on with refereeing I don’t do so with regret, but the tension that my sexuality created in myself was ever present. I came out at twenty-one, a surprise to no-one but myself. Afterall, alongside rugby, I had a love of tap-dancing when I was young, and I was mesmerized by musicals like Singin’ In the Rain. I loved that film so much so that I would prance around the living room as a four-year-old, resplendent in yellow rain jacket and a pink umbrella, singing and dancing along with Gene Kelly.

Throughout my twenties though, I really struggled to embrace my rugby-loving self, or my Gene Kelly-obsessed self. I didn’t have an outlet where I could feel all me, and despite having many gay friends from university, I wasn’t sure where I truly fit in.

After a few years away from it, I started refereeing seriously again in 2016. I loved knowing the rules, learning how a game could flow, and managing games that could be enjoyed by players, spectators, and referees alike. In fact, I found most joy in refereeing the Premier Women’s competition in Sydney. Throughout all this though, I was always conscious that rugby was not something easily accessible for gay people. Refereeing can be isolating. As a gay person it is even more so. Every week I found myself coming out – directly or indirectly – to other refs or to coaches. On the field as well, I had to check myself, and make sure I didn’t give myself away, particularly during the Israel Folau-years. More than once, I let slurs pass on the field at times, for fear of self-preservation.

Once COVID hit, I stepped away from refereeing and I’ve not been back. This year, after years of contemplating it, I joined the Convicts on the Pathways Program. The environment was beyond welcoming with players of varying levels of experience and all with different stories and pasts. It was one of the greatest introductions to a rugby club that I could imagine. Now, playing weekly for the Convicts First Team, I see the commitment and drive that everyone at the club has to succeed – both on the pitch and in bringing the club together.

Rugby really is for all shapes and sizes. It is for all sexualities, genders, and identities too. At a time when identities are at the heart of public debate and discourse, a family like Convicts is so important. We all love the game that we play, but most importantly when we cross back over the white line whether we win or lose, we are all there to support each other. That is what I love about Convicts. I wish I’d joined earlier but now that I’m here, I’m here for good."

Photo credit: Tim Wilson, 2023

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