| 2.7°C Belfast

Belfast Giants to open doors to all through Elite League's 'You Can Play' weekend


The Belfast Giants will be part of the Elite League's first ever Pride Weekend

The Belfast Giants will be part of the Elite League's first ever Pride Weekend

William Cherry/Presseye

The Belfast Giants will be part of the Elite League's first ever Pride Weekend

The Belfast Giants have always been praised for welcoming people from all walks of life at their games since they opened their doors 20 years ago.

The club have long been known for their cross-community outreach, operating under the mantra of 'In the land of the Giants, everyone is equal'.

With a ban on any football colours within the SSE Arena and an open doors policy, the Giants have always encouraged anyone to attend their games and get involved.

This weekend takes on particular significance, however, as the team prepare to be involved in the Elite League's first ever 'You Can Play' weekend.

All ten EIHL teams will be involved, with the league promoting the ideal that ice hockey is a sport for everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or affiliation.

As a result, the Giants have reached out to several LGBTQ+ charities and offered them free tickets for their game on Saturday night against the Glasgow Clan.

Among them are leading charity Stonewall, as well as NI charities Cara-Friend and The Rainbow Project, all of whom will be attending the game.

"It’s fantastic to have initiatives like Elite Ice Hockey’s You Can Play weekend to tackle the issue of LGBT inclusion in the sport," said Robbie de Santos, Stonewall's director of sport.

"Events like this can go a long way in inspiring young LGBT people by letting them know they are not alone and they have a place in sport."

Adam Murray, community development manager with Cara-Friend, added: "It's a sterling initiative, one that will send out a message to LGBTQ+ people right across Northern Ireland.

"As a charity that provides youth services across Northern Ireland, this kind of message being put out is a great message.

"Young LGBT kids don't see themselves represented much in the media or in sports, but when they see a whole team come out in support wearing those rainbow colours saying you can play, that will send a strong message to them.

"From our perspective, some people may not get what the point or message is of this, but the impact this can have on young people and their mental health, it all adds up. It's fantastic to see the Belfast Giants at the forefront of this change."

The Giants will also wear special 'You Can Play' jerseys, which are black with rainbow trim. The Giants' logo on the front and the players' names and numbers on the back will also be in rainbow.

'In the land of the Giants, everyone is equal' will also be written on the jersey, emphasising that the team's desire for inclusion for all.

The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game in the Giants' usual 'Shirt Off The Back' promotion, with the money raised being donated to the Junior Belfast Giants.

"The Junior Belfast Giants are thrilled to have the support of their Belfast Giants heroes in getting more young players involved in ice hockey in Northern Ireland," said Junior Giants head coach and Belfast Giants assistant coach Rob Stewart.

"The recent success of our Junior Belfast Giants players with junior national teams is testament to the hard work and dedication they have put into their sport."

For those within the Giants, they know this is nothing new for the team, who have been all for equality since the day they opened the doors.

Head coach Adam Keefe has now been with the team for nine seasons as both a player and behind the bench, and he expressed his pride at what the team are doing.

"It's great. Equality is a big stance that the Giants get behind and have always been about, so it's nice to get behind this as well for the LGBT community," said Keefe.

"Hockey is for everyone, and I think it's important the league has gotten behind it as well and every team has followed suit. It's good for hockey and good for everybody.

"This is a sport that everyone can come and support and everyone does get behind. There are no sides. It's a great campaign to get behind."

Tickets are still available for Saturday night's 'You Can Play' game against the Glasgow Clan, which can either be purchased online at Ticketmaster or by calling the SSE Arena box office.

The Giants will also be a part of the Guildford Flames' 'You Can Play' game when they travel to the Spectrum on Sunday evening.

Belfast Telegraph