Being an openly gay international referee has been tough …

Being a gay rugby referee has been tough for Nigel Owen , but coming out was like being born again. He will referee the Rugby World Cup Final next week.

As a referee, I’m used to dealing with anything that gets thrown at me. If I can’t deal with the flak and abuse, then I wouldn’t be able to do this job. But as a gay man, I’ve unfortunately had to experience homophobic abuse during my career.

The latest incident came during the Six Nations finale between England and France a couple of weeks ago, where I was targeted on Twitter because of my sexuality. I’m thick-skinned, but things like this still get you down. However, if you’re gay and want to go into sport, it’s the bullies who should be afraid, not you.

I first started refereeing rugby matches when I was in school. I played as a full-back, but after missing a crucial, match-winning conversion, I was told by a teacher to consider becoming a referee. He was half-joking, but I thought, ‘Why not?’ Since then, I’ve had the chance to oversee some of the biggest rugby games going. However, it hasn’t been an easy journey.

Nigel Owens suffered abuse on Twitter after refereeing England’s Six Nations decider against France earlier this month (Getty)

When I became a referee, it became clear that there was nobody in the sport who was gay. The rugby world is very heterosexual and masculine, and this made things difficult. Although that’s not to say that the sport is openly homophobic. It was just never an environment where I felt like I could be myself.

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