I play water polo for the London Orca squad. We've just finished a tournament in Amsterdam.
This is a big tournament - 140 players from 12 teams from across Europe. As well as my team from London, the teams travelled from Paris, Brussels, Manchester, Antwerp, and Copenhagen, plus of course our hosts from Amsterdam.
I posted a quick Facebook update on the results: 'My team came 9th in the Champagne Water Polo League tournament!'
One of my friends messaged me soon after: 'Champagne Water Polo League? Is that a real thing or are you just making up stuff to try and be funny?'
Perhaps surprisingly, IGLA's Champagne Water Polo League is actually a real thing. Let me try and explain.
Around the world there are a lot of LGBT sports clubs - all kinds of sports, all sorts of levels of skill and experience, some focused just on participation and some fiercely competitive. Most of these sports clubs trace their history or evolution in some way to the Gay Games movement that begin in San Francisco in 1982.
As well as the formation of individual clubs, some sports have also formed national and international governing bodies or associations.
One of these is IGLA - the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatic association. Aquatics includes swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming, and open water swimming. IGLA evolved out of the Gay Games - initially it was the aquatics teams in the United States who wanted to create opportunities to compete against each other - this grew overtime to become a way for LGBT aquatics clubs internationally to work together, communicate, and plan events and competitions together.
From a water polo perspective, IGLA hosts an annual championship but there is a real appetite for competitions throughout the year. Not only are they a great way to play the sport you love, but they encourage you to travel to different cities, spend time with your teammates, and make friends with people around the world.
Apart from IGLA's annual championship, we tend to organize these regular tournaments on a regional basis - North America; Australia; and Europe being the three main hubs.
It's these regional tournaments that we refer to as the Champagne Water Polo League. I give credit for the naming of the League to my London teammate Hendo who always seems to take charge in organizing a champagne reception at every tournament. The Parisian team of Aquahomo have also played a strong role in shaping this identity as they seem to be able to produce bottles of champagne (and complex choreography) without hesitation.
We joke that the North American events should be referred to as the Light Beer Water Polo League, but to be fair on our last foray across the Atlantic the standards of the Champagne Water Polo League were being strictly adhered to. Earlier this year we took a combined European team to participate in a tournament presented by the Toronto Triggerfish (reportedly the largest LGBT water polo squad in the world). Beyond memorable.
The core teams in each of the hubs is as follows:
- Melbourne Surge
- Sydney Stingers
- Montreal ACC
- Toronto Triggerfish
- Team New York Aquatics
- Atlanta Rainbow Trout
- San Francisco Tsunami
- Queer Utah Aquatics Club
- Seattle Otters
- Washington Wetskins
- Gay Swim Amsterdam
- Copenhagen Mermates
- Brussels Gay Sports
- Active Company Antwerp
- Paris Aquahomo
- Paris Aquatique
- Manchester Sharks
- London Orca
In the European conference of the League, the teams have got together to agree on three focus tournaments each year. We call these our "Trophy" tournaments as there is a perpetual trophy that is handed to the winner and engraved with their name. In 2013 our trophy tournaments were held in Manchester, Antwerp, and Amsterdam. In 2014 they will be held in Paris, Copenhagen, and Brussels.
I'm not close to the details of the schedule in the other regions, but I think the Australian conference holds at least two tournaments each year; and the North American conference also rotate their tournaments around the different cities.
So that's the logistics of it - surprisingly organized and smoothly run.
The participating teams are LGBT sports clubs and most players are gay (which adds a certain flair), but nearly all clubs will have a couple of straight players who like the standard of water polo and enjoy the energy of these tournaments.
For me a lot of the enjoyment comes from the build up to each event - the teams are particularly good using at social media to create training reports, sharing updates, news, speculation, and gossip about developments across the League.
While the teams are growing in size and number, there are some great personalities that continue to provide lots of entertainment for us all, and I now count some of my best friends amongst this bonkers collective of guys and girls who delight in traveling around the world to play some water polo and have a laugh.
From a personal perspective I think it's really important to be part of something that makes you feel good. Being part of this League has helped me to work out how to be a gay man in today's world, how to be comfortable and confident with myself, and how to be a better friend.
IGLA's Champagne Water Polo League is actually a real thing - and it's fantastic.