The world has all its eyes on the TV screen as we watch the International Cricket Council. Currently, the ICC is having its 12th edition of the Cricket World Cup. And simultaneously in a corner, we watch a much smaller group change the face of cricket for good.
Found in April 1996, Graces’ Cricket Club is the first and possibly only all-inclusive gay cricket club in the world. Their aim was the same as it is today – to promote the enjoyment of cricket amongst the LGBTQ+ community.
The team has its base in Greenford, West London. They recently were receiving much media coverage due to their open association with a couple of campaigns. These include Stonewall’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ and NatWest’s ‘Cricket knows no boundaries’ which is an initiative to rid sports of homophobia.
“It was initially difficult getting the first 11 people,” Pat Sopp – one of the Graces’ founding members and an honorary vice-president – told CNN Sport. Now, years later, Graces is a team of XI, with cricketers from all over the globe, with players from England, India, Australia, and Sri Lanka.
Originally the team was set up as a supporter’s group. Soon, almost a year after their formation, the team played their first ever game. And to the surprise of both Graces and Wendover (the other team), Graces’ won by 6 wickets. This was when they knew they were to start history.
Their fixture list grew rapidly after that, and so did their achievements. In 1999, the team won 9 out of their 10 fixtures.
However, in 2000, the club unwittingly made the national press of the UK, including big publications like Guardian and The Independent. This was because the descendants of the great Victorian cricketer – WG Grace, shared their horror of finding out that the cricket club was using their family name.
But the team took it up with pride, stating that they had chosen the name because WG Grace was a pioneering cricketer at his time, and they hope to be just that in the current. The team says they were grateful for the free publicity they received!
A word with the players:
Graces began in a time when gay people and gay rights weren’t as spoken about yet. This gave people a safe space to come out as who they are, helping them come to terms with who they are. They also simultaneously allow you to do what you love to do: play cricket.
The players themselves have come from countries and societies that aren’t very LGBTQ+ friendly. This gave them an opportunity to meet like-minds which is something the players keep close to their hearts.
“Not being so well accepted in your family but now you have your friends who you can talk to and do what you love to do, which is play sports. That’s pretty good,” says Sam Nimaiyar to CNN Sport.
Nimaiyar was born in India and was in a marriage with a woman. He even has a 9-year-old daughter, who he is immensely proud of. “I’ve got a daughter who is nine-years-old,” he explains. “But Manish (Modi) has a 16-year-old daughter and another player has a 14-year-old son, so you can relate to other people”.
Whether it is accepting a fielding mistake or accepting a new player into the team, the club is all about openness and inclusivity. Acceptance of anyone and everyone is their motto. This is one of the many reasons for the clubs constant attraction of new members. They are so open, that they also include straight players, even though being predominantly LGBTQ+.
For Stuart Anthony, the vice-captain of Graces, accepting players of any colour, creed and most importantly, ability, is what helps in creating an environment where people can have fun.
“We do have some weaker players and they still need to be part of it,” Anthony says to CNN Sport. “They want to be a part of it and we really want to have a place for them as well”.
“You’ve got to have a culture within what we represent to say it’s not just about winning, it’s about participation, it’s about making people feel welcome and if you’re not a strong player, it doesn’t really matter, we’ll try and find a place for you,” continues Anthony.
Graces Captain: Manish Modi
Manish Modi is the very vocal and accepting team leader for the Graces. It’s his first season as the captain but is very clearly loved and appreciated by his team members – he became the first captain without any opposition from team members. Modi moved from India to the UK in 2004. He knew he was gay almost 18 months prior to this but he hadn’t had any gay relationships.
After moving to London, with a combination of his membership with Graces, his new gay friends, and his ex-boyfriend, he made a decision. He was to come out to the most important person in his life, his father.
Of course, it wasn’t easy, given that Modi is from India and we are known for a patriarchal society and culture.
“In Asian culture, it is rare that father and son will sit down because we have a huge communication gap because you respect your elders,” Modi explains to CNN Sport. “My dad was my hero, but I never said that to him. And that’s what I wanted to tell him, that he’s my hero. Thanks for giving me all this.”
Modi’s father, much to his surprise, began to support Modi wholeheartedly. However, Modi still fears that his sexuality could have negative effects on his family who is still in India. Still, he continues to believe that his going public will help others in similar situations like him.
The truth remains:
On the same day that Graces are playing Hadley Wood, India is facing Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup.
During their lunch break between the innings, the team is seen huddling together in front of a phone to catch glimpses of the match that their national teams are getting on.
However, the truth stays the same. The 5 South Asian countries playing in the ICC still have LGBTQ+ marriages as illegal, including India. Furthermore, in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, same-sex sexual activities are illegal.
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