LGBTQ+ rights advocate Ben Cohen says emphasis on grassroots rugby will encourage girls to play

Former professional rugby player Ben Cohen has called for more emphasis on grassroots level.

Gay rights advocate and former professional rugby union star Ben Cohen has said emphasis needs to be placed on grassroots rugby to encourage more girls to get involved in the sport. 

Cohen, who founded the anti-bullying Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation after retiring from the game, is outspoken on LGBTQ+ issues and, in particular, the impacts of homophobic bullying. 

With the men’s Rugby World Cup well underway in France, Cohen told PinkNews he has been thinking about how far women’s football has come in recent years and the diverse range of presenters and pundits broadcasters now have covering matches.

“I like the fact that we have the right voices in the right places to drive more inclusivity and talk about women’s sport, [people] who have lived and breathed it,” he said. 

The Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand last year was hailed as the most successful women’s tournament in history, with record viewing and attendance figures as well as news and social media coverage.

Ben Cohen wants women’s rugby to follow in football’s footsteps. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

To replicate this growth and success in women’s rugby, Cohen feels players need to discuss the sport with youngsters.

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“We need to talk about it more at grassroots level, which means you need your heroes to talk about it as well and you need those people to go into schools and educate and say: ‘This is what playing in sport as a female athlete has done to me’,” Cohen said. 

Regardless of gender, it is extremely difficult to get into professional sports but he wants “young girls to hear about those journeys and the difficulty, as well what their heroes have faced”. 

Former winger Cohen, who was part of England’s World-Cup-winning team in 2003, added: “That cultivates interest and encourages people to look into other roles around sport where you need people. 

“We can use sport as a metaphor to drive a cultural change around women’s sport. 

“I’ve got a house full of women – my three girls and [fiancée] Kristina – and I know women have to go through a lot and that it is harder for women. 

“I like the fact that sport is more readily accessible and accepted now than it has ever been.”

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