The Berlin Bruisers, one of Europe’s leading gay rugby teams, has a pretty kickass pedigree.
The team broke a Guinness world record for most passes made within three minutes—237. They won their first match against the Briston Bisons during a Gay Rugby Tournament, but they are part of the German Rugby League, playing against straight teams every Saturday. They call themselves “gay ambassadors to rugby.”
The Bruisers have really earned their name; the team’s 50 members have racked up a total of 120 bruises, 25 sprains, a ripped achilles tendon, 10 fractures, a split skull, and intracranial haematoma. Somehow, they still get their workout off the grass.
Having marched in gay prides all across Europe—often protesting Putin’s anti-LGBT legislation—the team is also a fundraising dynamo. They created and sell a sexy team calendar and are the only amateur sports team that Adidas sponsors—“which is an amazing feat for such a young team,” says Bruisers co-founder Adam Wide. “We won a bursary of €5,000 [approximately $3,300 USD]for our work against stigmatisation in sport, a project of which we are immensely proud.”
Their latest tournament party, the Berlin Bash About, featured more than 150 rugby players from 30 different countries. Roughly 20 different teams flew in on local airlines, partying until the wee hours under a grand disco ball in Berlin’s west end of Schöneberg. Macho rugby players tried out their falsettos to impersonate boy bands and girl bands on a tiny stage.
Gay rugby is big in Europe, with teams in Ireland, Sweden, Spain, and elsewhere. There are over 10 teams in the United Kingdom alone, and they’re all fighters. In 2013, there was a record of 53 gay teams worldwide fighting for the Bingham Cup. “We are ‘thick as thieves,’” Wide says, “and highly competitive.”
The Bruisers fight injustice in more ways than one. As proud supporters of the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation to eradicate bullying, they take their hard-charging sportsmanship into schools as well. “This is something we take very seriously,” Wide says. “We have developed a program to enter schools to fight bullying in schools and homophobia in sport—our own personal stories are ones which many of the kids can empathise with, and the metaphor of being stronger as a team that any single person could ever be on their own is, of course, universal.”
When they play straight rugby teams, they often take their competitors by surprise. “They always tell us after a match that they thought we would be a pushover,” Wide says. Meanwhile, the Bruisers’ first German league match saw them win by 21 points (take that, stereotypes!).
What’s next for the Bruisers? They’re always ready to take on anyone who wants to play. As Wilde says, “Some we will win, and some we will lose, but we are all believers in what the team stands for, which is more than just playing rugby.”