For a sport whose image is historically dominated by masculine and violent stereotypes, rugby isn’t typically associated with inclusivity or being wholesome. But Occidental’s teams beg to differ — according to five-year rugby player Wayde Chan (first year), while Oxy men’s rugby team promotes traditional values such as discipline and masculinity, they aim to uphold an inclusive and supportive community.
Originally established in 1965, Chan said the team is currently in a rebuilding phase. Chan, one member that is spearheading the process, said he played in high school and was invited to compete for a U19 national team program in Canada. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and a season lacking numbers, the rugby team is left with only four returning players but 35 interested students hoping to play with the club.
All skill levels are welcome, according to Chan. But the reviving team has caught the attention of experienced athletes as well, such as Cole Ivie (senior). This past Fall, Ivie finished up an eight-year water polo career as a goalkeeper for Occidental’s men’s water polo team. Ivie said he has never played rugby before but was exposed to it through his girlfriend’s dad and the friends he met when studying abroad in England.
“It is my senior year, and I’m done with the sport that I’ve played my entire life now,” Ivie said. “So, I’m kind of trying to find a way to fill that gap. And I think that rugby could be one of those things. You know, I get to make new friends on top of my water polo friends.”
In an email to the student body, men’s rugby advertised the club as a supportive community encouraging non-binary and gender-neutral students to join — anyone that was comfortable playing with men, the email said. Chan said he took that idea from Occidental Womxn’s Rugby, which is notable for being a safe space for students of color, non-binary and queer students. A member of Oxy men’s rugby last year, Leo Blain* (senior) said he admires the team dynamic of Womxn’s Rugby. He said they do a great job of building a positive social environment and is hopeful of a social relationship between the two teams.
Oxy men’s rugby is not just rebuilding its team, but looking to influence the discourse surrounding the sport by both upholding and redefining some of its values — two of these being discipline and masculinity, according to Chan.
“I feel like masculinity has to be redefined a little bit,” Chan said. “We’re trying to uphold masculinity, but not the kind of misconception of masculinity where it’s just violence. Masculinity is about respect. Discipline plays into that as well, because rugby is a very disciplined sport. You’re going to be very physical, but there are rules to being physical. You have to be tactical about it, you have to be smart about it.”
Chan said his high school’s attitude towards rugby was that the sport is an inclusive and respectful place. According to Blain, there’s a position for anyone in rugby, regardless of one’s athletic background, physical advantages or disadvantages, body type or height. His claims are not unfounded — this past summer, Blain said he played with the competitive Division IV Los Angeles Rebellion Rugby Football Club, the only rugby team in LA that welcomes anyone no matter age, ethnicity, body type, fitness level or sexual and gender identity.
Although Chan said there might be different gender-related rules for official competitions, Occidental’s team will be a supportive community, and anyone can join practices.
“I feel like it’s important for everyone who wants to play it [is] able to participate. I will make this clear to all the members that it will be an inclusive place and that it’s a safe space,” Chan said. “I’m sure the school will come to realize that soon, but I could only guarantee [inclusion] on my part. If there are rules against [participation], it’s out of my hands. I’ll try my best. I’ll try to make everyone feel like they have a home when they play, that they have a group of guys that they can rely on.”
Reflecting on last year’s men’s rugby team, Blain said being in the club and competing against other schools was the most fun he has ever had playing a sport. But men’s rugby is no stranger to obstacles, whether they are rebuilding or in competition. According to Chan, the team has not been able to practice or participate in games this year because of factors such as a lack of experienced returnees and collecting everyone’s paperwork. Last season, Blain said they played pretty good rugby but faced the disadvantage of having a somewhat small team riddled with injuries. Many athletes had joined the rugby team when Occidental’s football team was cut in 2017 — but most of these members have since graduated.
However, Blain, Chan and Ivie said they are optimistic about the prospective team. In comparison to last year, Blain said he sees a positive shift in the culture. Chan said he hopes to create more of a culture surrounding rugby on campus and is motivated by Occidental’s championship run in 2014 and winning Nationals in 2013.
“I believe that if you can run, if you can throw a ball, you’ll be just fine playing with us,” Chan said.
*Leo Blaine was a photographer for The Occidental.
Contact Emma Cho at firstname.lastname@example.org.