WRU International referee Nigel Owens is backing a campaign to tackle homophobic attitudes in sport. Sports bodies such as the Football Association of Wales (FAW) are setting up a new group against discrimination. This is what Nigel had to say to the WalesOnline.
Referee Nigel Owens: football would benefit from gay ‘champion’ like Alfie
International rugby referee Nigel Owens says football would benefit from having a gay ‘champion’ in the mould of former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas.
Mr Owens also spoken of the abuse he has faced on the sporting field since publicly revealing he is gay.
Speaking at the launch of a new group designed to tackle discrimination in sport, the 41-year-old from Carmarthenshire also told how gay professional sportsmen and women called on him for advice and called for a united front to tackle prejudice.
His message comes on the back of new research which shows that 75% of people have heard “homophobic banter” while taking part in sport.
Figures published by Sport Wales and gay rights group Stonewall Cymru also reveal that 25% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people surveyed had felt isolated due to their sexuality.
Mr Owens, pictured, said: “Some of my friends tell me after a match sometimes that people shout stuff from the stand.
“A lot of it is because people shout at referees anyway, a lot of the time people don’t realise what they’ve said.
“You have to take it into context and understand that it isn’t personal.
“But there will always be, I’ve no doubt, occasions in any sport when individuals do display some nastiness.”
He added: “Only once can I remember it happening to me, during one Premiership game down in Llanelli against Neath, when one of the Neath supporters shouted something that everybody heard.
“The context of what was shouted was unacceptable but it was addressed and a lot of people from Neath came out and said it was unacceptable.”
He added: “In the week or two leading up to that incident I spent time with a young player who was trying to cope with being gay and worried about being found out.
“I was constantly telling him that he had nothing to worry about.
“But he happened to be watching this game and called me afterwards.
“That was the worst part of the whole incident.”
Sports bodies including the Football Association of Wales (FAW) have instigated the formation of an LGBT Network, tasked with driving participation, support and equality, championing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues within sport and eliminating discrimination through the delivery of education and training.
Mr Owens said other sports like football would benefit from a gay “champion” in the same way that former Welsh captain Gareth Thomas has promoted gay rights in the rugby world since revealing his sexuality.
“Everybody is waiting for a footballer to come out,” he said.
“It will happen. There is someone in every sport in the world who is lesbian, gay or bisexual.
“When it does happen I don’t think it will be as big an issue as people think.
“Fans are no better or worse in football than they are in rugby or any other sport, but there is a greater sense of tribalism in soccer which does not help.
“And when you see John Terry or others being found guilty by the FA of racial comments, it’s not an example to set young people.
“Football has a huge amount of work to do and a huge responsibility to everybody it attracts and that must be tackled at the very top level.”
He added: “A lot of gay people approach me from within and out of sport.
“I probably get an average of a couple of messages a week on Twitter or Facebook.
“All levels of people, from young to middle aged and even older people who are married with children and don’t know what to do, because they don’t know how they will be accepted.
“Amateur and professional sportsmen have approached me and even one or two footballers.
“I can only tell them my own experiences, I can’t tell them what to do.
“I can only say that it is all about putting words into context.
“If I make a poor decision on the rugby field, whether I am tall, thin, fat, old, young, gay or straight, fans are going to shout it at me.
“The same is true in football and when that first footballer comes out he is going to get some abuse, but what is important is that it is not personal.”
He added: “No matter who you are or what your are, there is a place for you in society and within sport.
“I know the trauma I went through, thinking and debating whether I should come out.
“The aftermath of that was the realisation that rugby is a safe environment.
“Events like this help people understand that at the end of the day, so what, who cares?”
SPEAKING at the launch of the LGBT Network, Prof Laura McAllister, chair of Sport Wales said: “Some individuals are being turned off sport, believing it can be an unwelcoming and unsafe environment for gay people.
“From schools through to community and professional sport, participants, coaches and spectators, the sector needs to take stock and look at what more can be done to ensure there is”
Andrew White, from Stonewall Cymru, said: “The message is clear: those involved in the running of sport must do more to show their commitment to tackling homophobia and encouraging gay people to take part in sport.”
Source: Wales Online