Out gay rugby referee tells Parliament there should be zero tolerance of homophobia in sport

Out gay rugby referee Nigel Owens has told Parliament that he thinks there should be a zero-tolerance approach to homophobia in sports.

The rugby ref told a committee meeting of the UK Parliament culture, media and sport select committee on homophobia in sport, Owens discussed his own coming out.

Despite feeling he may have to give up his job, he said he had experienced largely positive reactions to his coming out.

Owens told the committee: “I came to a stage in my life where I thought, am I going to be able to carry on refereeing and be who I am, or if I can’t carry on my refereeing, am I going to have to keep my sexuality quiet and carry on within the sport that I love?

“And that is something nobody should have to go through. But I honestly felt that I was going to have to make that decision.”

The Rugby World Cup final referee did say he had experienced a negative reaction from a small minority within the sport.

He said added that a zero-tolerance approach “will encourage other people to speak up against these people…and will encourage the most important people in this, those people who want to be themselves but feel for whatever reason they can’t be themselves in whatever sporting environment that they are in.”

Adding: “I can count on one hand negative attitudes I found in rugby. If someone asked me is rugby a homophobic sport then my answer would be no. I couldn’t be who I am today or referee at the level I do today if that wasn’t the case.

“I am aware as well that there are a minority of people within rugby, as there is within every sport, as there is within society as well, that would not like a person whether by the colour of his skin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. But on the whole, my experiences of rugby, have been hugely, hugely positive.”

He mentioned some abuse he had received at a match at the Twickenham stadium two years ago.

“There [are] some issues in rugby as far as homophobia goes that need to be addressed and eradicated. But it is a minority,” he said.

He concluded: “I was the first one to come out in rugby and I felt a huge amount of pressure as just a referee. I wasn’t a star. I can’t imagine the pressure that is on an individual in the game of football, the pressure he is going to be under, when he comes out.”