Nigel Owens: Referee backs homophobic abuse ban

Nigel Owens is the only openly gay official in top level rugby
Nigel Owens is the only openly gay official in top level rugby

Referee Nigel Owens has welcomed the ban of two people for shouting homophobic abuse at him during England's loss to New Zealand.

The Welsh official, 43, who is the first openly gay man to referee at the highest level, said he would be willing to meet the supporters.

"I'd tell them to think twice about saying things," Owens told BBC Radio 5 live.

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

Owens took charge of the Twickenham Test on 8 November - when other supporters sitting nearby reported the abuse to the Rugby Football Union.

The two fans have been banned from Twickenham for two years and must also pay £1,000 each to a charity of Nigel Owens' choice.

A second investigation is still ongoing into a separate incident of alleged homophobic abuse in a different part of the ground.

Homophobia 'is creeping into rugby'

The official, who is one of the assistant referees at Twickenham on Saturday for England against Australia, praised the RFU for coming down hard on discrimination.

But he said rugby has become "more accessible to people who are probably not traditional rugby supporters".

"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," he said.

The official revealed he would be willing to meet the banned supporters to hear their explanations of "exactly what they said and why they said it".

"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.

Nigel Owens
Owens was the only Welsh referee at the 2007 World Cup

"People say that I've broken down barriers by being a gay man in sport, but the true heroes here are the ones who don't stand by, who stand up and bring it to the attention of the governing bodies."

RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie said: "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."

The RFU was told of the abuse by other supporters.

Who is Nigel Owens?
2005: Appointed international referee
May 2007: Comes out publicly as gay
Sept 2007: World Cup debut, taking charge of Argentina v Georgia
Nov 2007: Named gay sports personality of the year by Stonewall
May 2008 & 2009: Referees Heineken Cup finals
Sept 2011: Referees at World Cup

Owens was appointed an international referee in 2005 and announced he was gay two years later.

He has since officiated at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, and was only the second man to referee two consecutive Heineken Cup finals - in 2008 and 2009.

Before alerting the RFU, supporter Keith Wilson wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaperexternal-link stating a group of supporters shouted "nasty, foul-mouthed, racist, homophobic abuse" at the official during England's 24-21 defeat.

England coach Stuart Lancaster:
"We have worked hard in rugby to get the core values of the sport ingrained and there is no place for homophobic abuse whatsoever. I applaud the stance and investigation absolutely."

After the incident came to light, England head coach Stuart Lancaster said: "We applaud the stance the RFU are taking and the investigation.

"We have got to understand the pressures that people are under and be supportive. That is all we want to achieve with referees."

Owens - who attempted suicide before coming out as gay - has been cited as an inspiration for the gay and lesbian community.

He has previously admitted considered quitting as a result of the sometimes vicious comments made by supporters.

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