Hey guys, Andy here. The day has come to call time on my gay and inclusive portrait project, Portraits of Pride, in its current form. To say I’m disappointed would be putting it mildly. Having taken over 300 portraits of players and supporters I find myself with little road left to travel. While COVID has certainly impacted the project, the pandemic has not changed the fundamental underlying landscape of communication, funds and support; there was no support for the project in 2019 and there remains no support for it in 2021. As such, it is time for a change.
When the UK went into lockdown I put a dozen clubs, who had expressed interest in being involved, on hold. However I also approached International Gay Rugby (IGR) with the idea for a short promotional style video, as an extension to the project. The aim was to highlight some of the challenges that those within IGR face and overcome such as homophobia and racism. Given global travel was at a standstill the idea required clubs to shoot their own footage according to my direction and to be edited into a final product to coincide with the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. Script, ideas and schedule were all completed but only a dozen clubs expressed an interest; unfortunately not enough to pursue the idea. The plan therefore changed to conduct remote portrait sessions with these stills replacing the moving picture element of the video. The stills were additionally to be organised into a photo montage of Mark Bingham, after whom the Bingham Cup is named, in time to commemorate IGR’s 20th birthday celebrations this October. Despite communicating to the clubs via social media, IGR trustees and email the uptake for the amended project and final products was low; just four people globally agreed to be involved.
I considered resuming Portraits of Pride for the 21/ 22 rugby season but found myself starring into an abyss. Having self funded the project prior to COVID I had little motivation to regain lost momentum. Importantly having been unemployed during the pandemic for close to two years I simply do not have the means to fund the project. And unfortunately no brands or companies I have reached out to are willing to help sponsor.
There is also the reality that the project has had little traction in both the rugby and rainbow communities. While one or two clubs share the portraits of their all players on social media, on the whole it is one player sharing their one portrait which generates next to no interest for the project. Would involving current or former professional players and internationals make a difference?
Rocky Clarke MBE; 137 caps and England’s most capped player of all time, agreed to take part and then stopped responding.
Megan Jones; England rugby sevens at both the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, no reply.
Celia Quansah; England rugby sevens at the 2020 Olympics, no reply.
LooseHeadz; apparel brand focusing on mental health in rugby. When asked if they would be willing to approach their ambassadors (including Ugo Monye, Gareth Anscombe, Brad Shields, etc) to take part, they declined to answer my question. The brand also indicated they did not wish to pass my request to the trustees of their charitable foundation, headed by Shaun Edwards.
Maybe I didn’t reach out to enough players? Maybe the players didn’t see my message? Maybe they did but it was drowned by a tsunami of new messages? Either way, the straw that broke the camel’s back involved Simon Shaw Rugby. A sponsor of the London Pride 7s Simon himself attended the BBQ after the competition to mingle with the players. Though the brand subsequently infringed on half a dozen of my images from the matches, in order to build a relationship with them I waived this infringement. I also offered to advise to help avoid future copyright issues and during the initial email exchange Simon agreed to take part in Portraits of Pride. Since then I have heard from neither the brand nor the player.
Given my experiences it is hard to conclude that inclusivity, for all the virtue signalling and flag waving, is a priority in rugby. I have a final throw of the dice up my sleeve and fingers crossed it leads to engagement and interest. However it is clear in order for the Portraits of Pride to continue I need to expand it beyond rugby and include other sports and their athletes. This expansion was always the long term aim of the project and now feels like the appropriate time to do so. The next step begins next week with a portrait session with Tom Bosworth, the British Olympic race walker who holds three World bests. Viktoria Schnaderbeck, the Austrian footballer and captain of the Austrian national team, Anita Asante, an English footballer, and Thomas Beattie, a former professional footballer, have also agreed to be involved. Given my experiences in the rugby world of last minute disappearances and cancellations I won’t count my chickens quite yet, but the response thus far from the wider sports world has been promising.
Lastly, I have tried to remain factual but I do not apologise if this blogs reads with an element of anger. Also I have previously been wary of naming and shaming; but when gaslighting and virtue signalling is so prevalent in the media today, I feel staying silent is complicit in bad behaviour