Gay rugby referee Nigel Owens urges fans to avoid homophobia at Twickenham this weekend

PinkNews logo with white background and rainbow corners

Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens has spoken ahead of tomorrow’s England v France game about his hopes that fans will not be homophobic.

In November, rugby fans were accused of shouting homophobic abuse at Mr Owens during the England v New Zealand match at Twickenham. The Rugby Football Union swiftly investigated, and banned the people in question.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Owens expressed his hopes that fans would avoid a repeat incident when he returns to Twickenham for the first time this weekend. He said: “If they are shouting things that are unacceptable about me, it does not really bother me because I won’t hear it, but there could be somebody sitting around them who is dealing with issues in their life and is finding things difficult. To hear these people shouting sometimes can be enough to tip somebody over the edge.

“I have been in that situation myself and know how difficult it is. Shout a bit of abuse and friendly banter by all means, and I hope that is never lost from the terraces. But think before you are going to shout something personal that can hurt. It won’t hurt me, but it may hurt somebody sitting a few seats away from you.”

He told rugby fans to be “passionate about supporting your team and don’t be afraid of shouting things – a bit of banter and a bit of humour are what we have come to expect from the terraces in rugby.”

Mr Owens, who once mocked a poor throw-in by a Harlequins player by saying “I’m straighter than that one”, described tomorrow’s Six Nations match as “probably the biggest game” of his career. He said he expected “a warm welcome” but understood that unacceptable abuse was always a possibility. “I haven’t experienced anything since [the incident in November] but if anybody thinks there is going to be nothing shouted in any stadium any more, then I think we are kidding ourselves because there will be the odd individual or group. No matter how hard you try, there are bad people in life.

“We have to be realistic and understand if you have 85,000 people in that stadium, it is not possible to control what people are going to shout and in any stadium in the world you can get a few individuals [who shout abuse].

“The biggest positive that came out of this negative was that individuals in that stadium were willing to stand up to this homophobic abuse and make a stance that it is not acceptable. That is the most important message to get out of this unfortunate incident.

“That is the best way to deal with any sort of unacceptable abuse.”

Mr Owens has previously received support in fighting homophobia from many people involved in rugby, including England coach Stuart Lancaster.