A married gay couple claims to be the first to own a professional sports club after acquiring a stake in British rugby team the Keighley Cougars.
Tech entrepreneurs Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia were part of a consortium that bought a majority stake in the troubled team last week.
Keighley Cougars, team founded in 1876, competes in League 1, the third tier of the English rugby league.
O’Neil’s father, Mick, who used to head the club in the 1990s, returned as chairman and was proud to introduce his 40-year-old son and his 33-year-old Brazilian husband as part of the new ownership team at a meeting with supporters on January 24, as reported by ITV.
O’Neill told Media he and Garcia received a warm welcome.
“In our introduction as new owners to a packed meeting of supporters, we announced ourselves as a same-sex married couple, which was met with applause,” he said.
The new club owner complimented rugby’s governing body for fostering a spirit of inclusivity in the sport.
“In my first meeting with the Rugby Football League, we discussed gay rights, and they are extremely supportive in working with us on LGBT+ inclusive initiatives.”
O’Neill credited the rainbow laces campaign in football for “softened traditional attitudes on the terraces towards LGBT+” and pledged to work together with the Rugby Football League to broaden their campaigns to further include LGBT+ rights.
Married gay couple among few openly LGBT+ sports executives
Openly LGBT+ executives are still rare in the sports world. One notable exception is Laura Ricketts, the openly lesbian co-owner of the Major League Baseball (MLB) team Chicago Cubs, whose family took over in 2009.
At the time, Ricketts was the first and only openly LGBT+ owner of a professional sports club, as the Windy City Times reported upon her appointment.
National Basketball Association (NBA) executive Rick Welts publicly came out as gay in an interview with The New York Times in May 2011.
The interview was published shortly before he moved from the Phoenix Suns to the Golden State Warriors, where he is currently serving as president and chief operating officer.
O’Neill referenced ‘out’ gay rugby players Gareth Thomas, Keegan Hirst, and Sam Stanley as examples of the sport’s inclusivity.
“I can’t think of any other professional team sport that has as many openly gay players at the highest level. There is very much a family atmosphere within team sports, and due to the openly gay players, the supporters have begun to consider and understand LGBT+ issues.” O’Neill said.
O’Neill sees team members as playing a crucial role in fighting anti-gay prejudice among supporters.
“At Keighley Cougars we have a foundation which funds players going out into the local community. I see players discussing LGBT+ issues with local people as part of this role, this is crucial in changing attitudes on the terraces,” he said.
He added: “I will be discussing with professional sports governing bodies to have a policy that all such foundations linked to professional sports clubs has an LGBT+ policy.”