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Gay rugby player finds camaraderie in Cantonese team, and hopes his story will inspire others to be open

24 Mar 2019 21:39 | Anonymous
  • "My teammates are there for me no matter what," says Alessandro Calanca
  • Italian has no Cantonese language skills but forms bond with City RFC players thanks to their "unconditional" support

Allesandro Calanca gets (back row, second from left) unconditional support from his teammates, despite the perception that Hong Kong has outdated views about LGBTQ community members.

Reprinted from South China Morning Post

By Mark Agnew

When Alessandro Calanca moved to Hong Kong he had never player rugby before. So, it might seem like a bizarre decision to begin a brutal sport at the age of 27.

But Calanca, originally from Italy, has found a level of “unconditional camaraderie” at City Rugby Club he never expected.

The club attracts local Hongkongers, making Calanca the only non-Cantonese speaking player. He is forced to rely on his teammates for translations during huddles and coaching sessions.

His decisions to start rugby and join a local team, rather than one filled with fellow expats, is not the only unique aspect to his story. Calanca is gay, and before coming to Hong Kong had heard that the city’s attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community was not open.

“I was expecting to have a few issues here and there with the teammates and people in sports, but it turned out to be a very smooth process,” Calanca said. “I was lucky to be in a very supportive club, I was very lucky to have understanding and open minded people around me.”

Calanca has never come out to his teammates. They simply accepted him for who he is. In fact, even the idea of coming out is strange to Calanca, as straight people are not expected to declare their sexuality. “I think that is the direction we are going, that we don’t have to classify or label people,” he said.

Ironically, the only prejudice Calanca has faced was when they were playing a team predominately filled with expats. One of the opposition was shouting at Calanca’s teammates and Calanca told him to stop it. “He is a person. You don’t have to shout at him or scream at him,” he said.

Then the opposition rounded on Calanca and used a derogatory word for gay people.

“That got me mad,” he said. “Because this has nothing to do with a person being gay or straight. This is just a matter of being respectful.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration if I say it was a bit of traumatising moment.”

But Calanca’s team came to his aid, and the other City players stood up for him even though many of them did not know what the word meant.

“I had the ultimate realisation that my teammates will be there for me no matter what,” he said. “Regardless of whether they knew what had been said to me, they were by my side.”

Calanca’s friends had to convince him to share his story. He thought there was nothing unique about being a non-Cantonese speaking, beginner rugby player and openly gay, in Hong Kong.

“‘Inspire’ feels like a hard word and it comes with a lot of responsibility,” Calanca said. “But even if it just inspires one person to be open to their teammates in any team sport, or one person to join rugby even though they didn’t think they were tough enough to play, then I think it is a story worth being told.”

Calanca has faith that the younger generation in Hong Kong is open to diversity, even if legislation lags behind changing attitudes.

The Italian avoided joining rugby under the impression he was not tough enough but the nature of the brutal sport has filtered into the culture of standing up for each other, no matter your teammates backgrounds or values.

“The way it is structured, you have to be physically there for your teammate and be available for your teammate,” he said. “But if you are not their to support, the game can’t go on. And I think that is pretty powerful.”

He might still be developing his skills but he has found an environment where he feels safe, where he can play and be himself. “And that’s priceless,” he said. “If someone else can have that feeling, I will recommend with my whole heart. It makes you realise that no matter how difficult or hard it has been, there are always people who support you. Your teammates.”

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