International Rugby Referee Nigel Owens MBE Feels Rugby is a More Accepting Sport than Football

​22/02/2017

​Prof Aitchison, Nigel Owens and Director of Stonewall Cymru, Andrew White.

​One of the world's most well-known international rugby referees and Stonewall's Sports Person of the Decade, Nigel Owens MBE, has told Cardiff Met students, staff and guests that there is more respect within rugby than in any other sport.

Nigel, who is an Honorary Fellow of the University, was characteristically frank and open at the talk to mark LGBT History Month and spoke about his experiences surrounding his sexuality and the way in which they have shaped his personal life and sporting career.

The fully booked event was co-ordinated by Cardiff Met's LGBT+ Staff Network, in association with Stonewall Cymru, who voted the popular TV personality their Sports Person of the Decade in 2015.

Nigel, who is a Patron of Samaritans Cymru, highlighted current issues facing individuals who identify themselves as LGBT – particularly within the sporting arena - and gave engaging and personal responses to his audience's questions.

The prominent and visible role model and TV presenter spoke about his much-publicised battle with his sexuality and urged young people experiencing homophobic abuse to speak out.

He said: "All anybody wants is to be able to be themselves and that's all I wanted was to be myself and to be treated the same.

"It's really not about going out and pushing these things in people's faces - we should be treated the same, no more and certainly no less. That's all that anybody really should want.

"School and university are probably the best time of your life. That's when you make friends and become the person you will be for the rest of your life.

"Education has a huge, huge part to play in allowing people to be who they are and none of us should be treated differently. All we deserve and all we ask for is to be treated the same."

As a university with such a strong reputation for sport, Nigel commended Cardiff Met on the full and varied programmes of activities taking place throughout the month to celebrate LGBT History Month.

He said: "As a sport, rugby can't stand the moral high ground, because someone will sometimes occasionally have their eyes gouged or stamp on someone when they are one the ground – but what is better in rugby than in most other sports, is the respect within the game itself. That is why it easier to come out as someone involved in rugby than in football. People are able to be themselves more in rugby than they are in football.

"There are, of course, a lot of great people in football but there is a minority of bad people who don't like other people, for whatever reason. The size of the sport and the following it has means that the minority within football have a much bigger voice than the minority within rugby. When someone within football does come out – and I say when, because it will happen – I think people will be pleasantly surprised at how people will embrace that."

Professor Cara Aitchison, the University's President and Vice-Chancellor, attended the event and said: "It's really important for us to hear authentic stories in all their colour.

"Nigel's story is highly valuable, particularly for a university that focusses so much on sport and the difficulties people in sport, particularly men in sport, have in coming out."

Professor Aitchison continued:  "It is really important that people can be authentic and that we provide an environment in which they can thrive and not just survive. One of this evening's main themes was authenticity and as a university we are fully committed to supporting equality and diversity, and in a very vocal way. Many universities claim in their strategic plans to support equality and diversity whereas we really try to live and breathe equality and diversity in all we do."

Referring to 2016 as 'a painful year' and 'a difficult year for many of the LGBT community' when 'hatred and division and prejudice were given the green light, and where those with hateful intentions were given an amplification and a green light,' Stonewall Cymru's Director, Andrew White said:  "Hiding who you are, or having to hide who you are on an hour by hour basis is exhausting so when you can actually be who you are in all its ugliness or beauty, it enables people to do their jobs better and relate to their family and friends better. It's hugely important that they can be themselves."