How the UK’s first LGBTQ+ cricket tournament is creating an inclusive space for queer players

Birmingham Unicorns in a huddle.

The UK is about to have its first LGBTQ+ cricket tournament – and it’s been a long time coming.

Today, most sports have LGBTQ+ fan groups or grassroots clubs of their own, but cricket is lagging behind some other big hitters. 

There are just two LGBTQ+ cricket clubs in the UK. It’s a solid start, but there’s a long way to go to carve out safe, welcoming spaces for queer cricket fans and players alike – and that’s backed up by research. A recent poll found that football, cricket and tennis are the sports where LGBTQ+ fans face the most homophobic or transphobic abuse. 

Lachlan Smith is chair of the Birmingham Unicorns, one of the UK’s two LGBTQ+ cricket clubs. He says the sport is changing – and Warwickshire Cricket’s LGBTQ+ tournament is a vital step along the journey to full inclusivity. 

Lachlan, who started playing cricket aged 10 while growing up in Australia, has had a lifelong love for the sport – but like many LGBTQ+ people, he struggled to see a place for himself as an adult.

Lachlan Smith, founder of Birmingham Unicorns. He is pictured here wearing a suit at Lords.
Lachlan Smith, founder of Birmingham Unicorns. (Supplied)

“I played all through my school years and it was only after I came out, when I was about 21, 22 … it was around that time that I gave cricket away,” Lachlan tells PinkNews.

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“It was around the same time of my dad passing and I wasn’t comfortable in myself, so I stopped playing cricket, although I continued to support cricket, I continued to go and watch cricket.” 

Aged 24, Lachlan moved to England, where he disengaged even further from the sport he loved. A decade later, a conversation with his mother and sister back in Australia convinced him it was time to get back to cricket.

“They were like, ‘come on, you’ve lived overseas for this long now, you can’t keep everything in storage anymore, you need to actually decide what you’re going to do with all this life stuff’. And they gave me my old cricket bat … and were like, ‘just take it back with you to England’.” 

When he got back to the UK, it dawned on Lachlan that he was missing cricket. He plucked up the courage and joined a club linked to his job. When he left that employer, he had to find a new club to play with. Terrified, he went along to a club in Birmingham and pushed past his fear that he “wouldn’t be good enough”.

Lachlan Smith batting.
Lachlan Smith batting. (Supplied)

With that club, Lachlan thrived – but there was just one problem: he hadn’t come out to his teammates.

“Within 18 months of being [with the Birmingham club] I kind of realised I needed to either come out or leave the game. I knew I wasn’t being my authentic self, I was hiding parts of myself and I was finding that really difficult. It was the only bit of my life where I wasn’t out, so I did come out – and that was a really positive experience actually.”

It wasn’t until COVID-19 hit that Lachlan started thinking about the idea of setting up an LGBTQ+ specific cricket club where he could bring his community together. He recalls attending a webinar where they discussed the ways lockdown was affecting queer people, who lost social spaces such as gay bars overnight.

“It just got me thinking that, for me, cricket has been such an important part of enabling me to manage my own mental health and things like that. Maybe this is something other LGBTQ+ people might be interested in.” 

Before long, Lachlan assembled a group of LGBTQ+ cricket lovers, and the Birmingham Unicorns were born. They played their first season in 2021. 

The Birmingham Unicorns playing cricket.
The Birmingham Unicorns playing cricket. (Supplied)

“Since then, the rate of acceleration of growth of the club and people within the LGBTQ community who are interested in playing cricket has been really mind-blowing. It exceeded all my expectations.”

Around a year ago, Warwickshire Cricket started talking about hosting an LGBTQ+ tournament. Finally, that dream is about to come to pass. The tournament will be held on Sunday (11 June), with teams representing five professional county clubs taking part.

“We’re going to hopefully have a really good day’s cricket as a celebration of how far cricket’s come as a sport, in terms of being inclusive and open, but also just to demonstrate to people that you can be LGBTQ and you can play cricket.

“There’s a space for you in the sport, whether it’s at the Unicorns or Graces [in London] or be it at other cricket clubs.” 

The Pride tournament is symbolic of wider changes in cricket, Lachlan says. He has heard homophobic abuse, chants and slogans at matches in the past, but that’s getting less and less common.

A person holds up a rainbow LGBTQ+ pride flag during a march in Tokyo, Japan
Lachlan says it’s all about education and visibility at a grassroots level. (Getty Images)

“When I experienced homophobic abuse playing club cricket my captain and my club addressed it very quickly and that made a huge difference to me personally, that they just came out, they spoke to the opposition, and the issue was addressed on the day effectively.

“That is really comforting to me and gave me confidence to turn up the next week and continue playing.”

As far as Lachlan sees it, it’s all about education and visibility at a grassroots level. That’s the only way cricket can continue to change for the better.

“I am encouraged with cricket. I think we’re on the right path. It’s going to take a while but things like the cricket festival, things like Pride matches, are all part of that and will help us hopefully get there.” 

Teams representing five professional county clubs – Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Middlesex and Northamptonshire – will compete in a round-robin event at Sutton Coldfield CC on Sunday 11 June.