International referee Nigel Owens has said that rugby pundit and former Irish international Neil Francis is “living in the dark ages.”
The Welsh official, who is openly gay and regarded as one of the best referees in the game, said on the Pat Kenny Show that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Francis’s comments were unhelpful for young people struggling with their identity.
“I think he needs to think long and hard before he comes out with statements like this — of what harm he’s doing to young people who are struggling with who they are.
“I came to within a few minutes of taking my own life and there are a lot of other people out there who are still in that position and remarks like this don’t help people,” said Owens.
Disappointing to read Neil Francis comments. There are loads of gay people in sport. Most are just not out. Wish they wd stop stereotyping— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) February 17, 2014
Francis became embroiled in controversy on Sunday when, speaking on Newstalk’s ‘Off The Ball’, he claimed that sport “isn’t something they [homosexual men] are very interested in.”
Francis didn’t accept that he was stereotyping but emphasised that he was speaking from personal experience.
Owens said that it was necessary to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all in sport.
He also told listeners that since coming out he has not been subjected to any homophobic comments.
“I’ve been into the dressing rooms of some of the best players and best teams in the world for the best part of the last decade and I can honestly say that I haven’t picked up any sort of homophobic issues.
“I never have [had smart comments directed at me], not once. I haven’t had it in the seven or eight years since I’ve come out and I’d be very surprised if I do get it,” he said.
Sport is for all. No matter who you are or where your from. Many gay people play sport at all levels. Just most have chosen not to come out— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) February 17, 2014
The Welsh official also told young people that Francis’s comments were largely irrelevant.
“I hope they realise that what he’s saying is pretty irrelevant really.
“When you come out with a comment saying I [Francis] have no interest in ballet, that just sums it all up of someone who’s living in the dark ages and is stereotyping people quite wrongly and I think the majority of young people who hear this will realise the context,” said Owens.
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