“I said, ‘Oh I like your laces,’ and he said, ‘It’s very important to me, Nigel, that I show my support.’”
Legendary referee Nigel Owens has had many well-loved moments on the field but his chat with French prop Jefferson Poirot in the latter stages of the Guinness Six Nations clash between England and France in 2019 is still remembered as a stand-out moment.
But for Owens, Poirot’s rainbow laces – worn as a sign of support for the LGBTQ+ community – are just one small example of the ethos of respect that underpins the world of rugby:
“One of rugby’s strengths has been that it’s a sport for all shapes and sizes,” he explains “No matter what you look like, how fast, slow, tall, thin, big you are, there’s a place for you in the rugby team. And that includes you as a person as well, I believe.”
In a brand new video released to mark the start of Guinness Six Nations 2021 this weekend, Owens reflects on his decades-long career, the power of inclusivity and diversity in sport, and his own experiences since coming out in 2007.
“When I came out […] I had messages from all over the world. From fellow referees, supporters, coaches, players. That meant a lot,” he added.
For Owens, the value in accepting every supporter and every person on the pitch for who they are lasts far beyond the final whistle:” Rugby as a sport […] leads the way in breaking down barriers in society as well, I believe. It is a continuing fight really.”
The Welshman will watch this weekend as a fan – and looks forward to doing the same thing as fans all over the world, cheering his side on and moaning at the ref!