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Referee Nigel Owens says he nearly quit rugby after homophobic abuse at Twickenham match

Ella Braidwood August 23, 2018
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Nigel Owens

BARNET, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Referee Nigel Owens during the European Rugby Champions Cup match between Saracens and ASM Clermont Auvergne at Allianz Park on December 11, 2017 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Welsh referee Nigel Owens has revealed that he nearly left rugby after being subjected to homophobic abuse at a New Zealand vs England at Twickenham, southwest London.

The official revealed that he received a personal letter from the then Rugby Football Union chair Bill Beaumont following the incident, which encouraged him to stay in the sport.

“It was New Zealand vs England in Twickenham, I’d had a couple of phone calls asking me what I’d thought about the comments that had been shouted at me,” Owens said in a video for Dove Men+Care as part of its Spirit of Rugby series.

“What we really don’t know is were they true rugby people or were they people that just came along to that game?

Owens said a personal letter from then Rugby Union chair Bill Beaumont encouraged him to stay in the sport. (nigelrefowens/Instagram)

“What was difficult, people talking about it and then everyone in the world knows you’re gay. So there was a sense of disappointment, of ‘here we go again’. Even now, after all I’ve been through, there are times where it gets you down and gets you scared.”

Two fans were banned for two years from all matches at Twickenham, after shouting homophobic abuse at Owens – the first openly gay referee at the sport’s highest level – during the international game.

Owens added: “Sometimes you get these comments and read these tweets and you think ‘do I really need this? Do I really need to do this job?’ It does get you down and I honestly think sometimes like saying ‘enough is enough, I will walk away from it all’.”

Writing on Instagram about the new video, Owens said: “The touching personal letter from @BillBeaumont & the support from the rugby community after the homophobic abuse at Twickenham 2014 proved what a great sport rugby is. It changed my mind to carry on and not give it all up.”

Talking about his response to the abuse Owens got in 2014, Beaumont said in the video: “Forty-eight hours after the game, on the Monday I think, we were made aware that comments had been made.

“I just felt sad, that somebody would’ve stooped so low, and I decided then that I would write a personal letter to Nigel that I care about it and the Union cared about it, and that he would always be welcome at Twickenham.”

Owens publicly came out as gay in 2007.

The 47-year old has previously discussed how, as a young adult, he struggled with bulimia and had attempted suicide because his sexuality was “totally alien” to him.

Watch the video below:

Related topics: Nigel Owens, Rugby, twickenham

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