Gay rugby referee Nigel Owens welcomes ban for fans who yelled homophobic abuse

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Rugby referee Nigel Owens has welcomed a ban for two fans who reportedly yelled homophobic abuse at him.

The pair were this week banned for two years from all matches at Twickenham, after last month screaming abuse at Owens, 43 – the first openly gay referee at the sport’s highest level – during an England v New Zealand match.

Nigel Owens told the BBC: “I think this has really highlighted that it’s creeping a bit more into the game.

“It’s up to rugby people in the stadium saying ‘that’s not acceptable in this sport’ so we can get rid of them from the game.

“They go to the stadiums, get drunk and think its fine to shout abuse.

“I’d tell them to think twice about saying things, because it’s not me they’re hurting, it’s the young kid sitting in the row in front who’s maybe dealing with their own sexuality.

“The most difficult thing I ever had to do in my life was accepting I was gay. It’s someone sitting two seats away, going through what I went through, dealing with who they are, who are the people they’re putting in danger.

“I’ve been there myself and I know they can tip you over the edge, I had a second chance, let’s make sure that we don’t put other people in that situation – because there’s no need for it in society and no need for it in life.”

RFU CEO Ian Ritchie said previously: “While instances of this nature are exceptionally rare, the RFU takes rugby’s values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship very seriously, and is determined to uphold them.

“We are all guardians of these aspects of the game, on and off the pitch, and it is these values which make the sport special.”