“We’ve created this basketball family where everyone’s welcome,” says Georgia Tsakiri, Chair of Manchester Lynx. “As long as you have respect and tolerance, and of course, a love for the game.”
Set up in 2008 by Michelle Reid, Anna Verges and Lou Englefield – now the Director of Pride Sports, who work towards improving access to sport for LGBTQIA+ people – the club was originally known as the ‘Slam Dunkin' Divas’ and was a casual affair of mixed ability recreational basketball.
Tsakiri, who is originally from Athens, Greece, joined shortly after its inception and now heads up the club, which has over 20 members spread across a recreational arm and a competitive squad that plays in the Manchester Area Basketball League, where they are currently joint fifth in the Women’s Premier Division.
Like many clubs across England, the Lynx’s participatory numbers took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and the club is still in the throes of recovery.
Funding received through phase one of Basketball England's recovery programme has aided them somewhat, paying for vital infrastructure such as facility hire, coaching and officiating courses and league fees, as well as basketball essentials like new balls, bibs and cones. Tsakiri says the funding has helped the club look to the future and its long term viability.
“Because we want to be more sustainable, in the last couple of years I have been trying to train people up and send people on courses so that we can cover all areas, and make sure that we have plenty of coaches and officials within the team,” said the 43-year-old.
“I just try to make sure that the club is running okay and everyone’s happy. But the club owes its success to the extraordinary work of our committee."
In agreement is Club Secretary Rebecca Crawford, who has been a member for the last two years and was drawn to join the club because of its inclusive LGBTQIA+ nature.
“G does a lot of things for the club and gives up a lot our hours voluntarily to sort out the team, coaching, funding, venue logistics, as well as coach and play herself, says Crawford, who is originally from Oldham.
By trade Crawford is a PE teacher and got into basketball during her teacher training, where she watched her first game of basketball on TV between the LA Clippers and the Denver Nuggets.
As one of the Lynx’s newly trained basketball coaches, she is working to create a solid programme for beginners' basketball and replenish membership numbers.
“We don’t want the club to die when Georgia leaves. Not that she ever will. I don't want it to get to a point where we can't sustain it, because we've only got 10 people, especially because of the good that it does in the community. And with us, I think, being the only LGBT+ bannered team in the North West. We don't want to let it just fizzle out.”
LGBT+ History Month encourages inclusivity and understanding about the historical contributions the LGBTQIA+ community has made to society and this year specifically focuses on contributions made to cinema and film.
Manchester has a very visible and vibrant LGBTQIA+ scene, but the Lynx duo know that beneath the veneer there’s still stigma and prejudice, reaffirming the importance of the club’s existence as a place for people to feel themselves and talk about the issues that affect them.
Twenty-eight-year-old Crawford believes that awareness campaigns act as markers to show how far society has come and the progress that is still to be made, whilst for Tsakiri it’s a time to honour and remember all the brave people who’ve come out.
“You still hear about homophobic or transphobic incidents and about [LGBTQIA+] teenage suicide rates, and there are still countries that use conversion therapy,” says Tsakiri.
“The fact that we provide this safe sporting space is almost like a silent protest to say we are here and we welcome everyone, but we also want to ensure that everyone is safe and it's okay to speak about LGBT+ issues.”
“It's not that you have to be gay to come and play on our team,” added Crawford. “However you identify or support the community, you’re welcome in our environment. It's just good to have the flag attached to all our [branding] and have it out there on social media, so wherever people see it they know that they’re welcome here.”
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