Nigel Owens: True to Myself


Nigel Owens: True to Myself

Welsh international rugby union referee Nigel Owens talks about the pressures of the modern game, the private struggle with his sexuality and his love of the game and his family.


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The last game of the season and our first win. I kicked the ball and it

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went close to the corner and the post in front of me. They said to

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me, for God's sake, go and referee or something, will you? Nigel stayed

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with the school, taking a job as a technician and worked his way up

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through the referee ranks. While living at home with his parents at

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home. He was quick to learn the tricks of the trade, especially from

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mentors. So far, the only Welsh referee of the World Cup final. The

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earliest memories of Nigel were of a 16-year-old boy. He used to catch

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one, two, three buses to get to the venue where he was referee. Up at

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7am, didn't stop until about 9:30 p.m.. Dead keen. There was a referee

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who used to wear a blazer. He said when he was a referee he used to

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keep a whistle in his blazer pocket. By the time he put it in his mouth

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to blow for -- blow, he would know whether or not to blow the whistle.

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If it was up here it was too late, you would blow it. He said he always

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kept it down though. Then by the time you brought it up you would

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know whether or not you had to blow it. The hardest thing for a referee

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is knowing when or not to blow it. I have the whistle OK? Somebody

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called for the offence. Derek told me a happy referee was a good

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referee. He said, next time don't tell them and mollycoddle them, you

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tell them, I've asked you and now I am telling you. Do that again and

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you are gone. I always remember that. I stated quite clearly, the

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conditions are not an issue. The issue is with your binding. I

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suggest you get it in order. I have asked you, now I am telling you. He

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had a lot of 1-liners. In Wales, you are going to the same clubs every

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Saturday, referee a lot of the same people, internationals, top-class

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players. So you have to earn that reputation. Once players trust of

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the referee, he is well on his way. Trust between players and referees

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is absolutely massive. Before long, Nigel joined the company, a group of

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senior referees. But while success soared on the pitch, offbeat his own

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self-esteem and denial of his sexuality darkened. -- off it.

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Worried about his weight, he did weighttraining and took steroids.

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The biggest challenge I had was dealing with who I was. But then at

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about 18 or 19 I was becoming different and starting to have

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feelings for somebody of the same sex as me and this was all alien to

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me. This is not the way I have been brought up, this is not what I know.

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That was a very difficult time in my life. I remember doing something for

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the first time with another guy and I felt sick and physically sick and

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ashamed afterwards of what I have done. I was feeling with accepting

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who I was. I was brought up in a small community and not really

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knowing what being gay and not knowing gay people. You go back

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20-25 years, all of a sudden this was making me depressed. It was

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making me ill. With that I became bulimic, because I wasn't looking

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healthy, I wasn't looking well enough to attract another man, I

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guess. I got hooked on steroids and I couldn't come off steroids. I

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abused steroids at one of the big side effects is it makes you

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depressed as well and makes you short tempered. I was going downhill

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very fast to a very dark place, where there was no way out for me at

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one stage. I did something one night that I will regret for the rest of

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my life. I left a note for my mum and dad and said, I can't carry on

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any more with my life. I didn't tell them why. I left the house that

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night with a shotgun loaded, with a couple of boxes of paracetamol and a

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bottle of whiskey and just walked around the village. For the last

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time. Looking back at everything, I guess. Where I had grown up and

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spent 19 years of my life in this small, wonderful village and

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community. Funnily enough, what I took to take my own life that might

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actually saved me in one sense. I overdosed with paracetamol and the

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whiskey and it put me into a coma. If I hadn't got into that coma, I

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would have pulled the trigger of the gun without a doubt. I was found by

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the police helicopter and when my mum and dad came into see me, I was

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an only child as well, I remember my mum told me that night in hospital,

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if you do anything like that again then you take me and your dad with

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you because we don't want to live without you. I realised then what I

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had done and I told myself, you need to grow up and you need to accept

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who you are and that was the first big turning point in my life in

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getting through this, you know? That's when I have to accept I was

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different. But for the next eight years Nigel continued to keep his

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homosexuality a secret, hiding it even from his family and friends,

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will read what people might think, worried what would happen to his

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blossoming career in the rugby and media, becoming a co- presenter on

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the Jonathan Show. But he couldn't live the life forever. I wasn't

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happy in my life because I was hiding it. I was lying who I was. I

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was trying to live a life that I couldn't live and hiding it from

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people. I was worried what people, mum and dad, my friends, whether

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they would accept me. It is only one word with three letters, gay, but

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sitting down and telling them you are gay is not easy and I told my

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mum and she cried and I cried. Nobody is out in the macho world of

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rugby. Am I going to be able to carry on with my referee in? Or am I

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going to have to just tell my family and friends and you'll live a lie in

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the public eye, in the rugby world? Or am I going to have to be who I am

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and give up a referee in? To think that anybody has to make the

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decision of being who you are all continuing in the sport that you

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love is a decision that nobody should have to make, in being gay or

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carrying on in rugby. Nobody should have to make that decision. Rave and

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audacious, he literally came out of the closet on prime-time TV and

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hoped for the best. I had a text of him saying that he was gay and he

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was coming out. It didn't bother me, because a friend is a friend and it

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is up to him what he is going to do in his own time. I said that to

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him. I am still your friend, don't worry about it. I knew it was a

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difficult time for him, so we tried to make light of it and said, right,

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you're going to come out on the show. He wasn't sure at the start. I

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said, you come out of the closet and save, I am what I am, then we won't

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mention it and see if people catch on or not. A sickly he agreed and

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that's what happened. When the closet opened I came out

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and you have no idea what a feeling it was when pretty much everybody in

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the audience stood up and applauded. Then I went to my seat and everybody

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clapped and laughed and we got on with the show. Then the EU and those

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came and it has been part of the show ever since. Onset, to work with

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Nigel is fantastic. He has helped a lot of people by talking about it in

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the way that he does. He doesn't take itself too seriously and I know

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he gets weekly letters, e-mails, tweets, about how the way he has

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dealt with his sexuality has helped others. That's important to

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remember, that he has done it the right way. It was a key moment for

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sport, not just rugby, all sport. I think it was a massive step forward

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for him. Yes, you know, it didn't affect rugby in any way. It probably

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made the sport closer. It encouraged other people in sport perhaps to

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come out as well. I think a lot of people on the periphery thanked him

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for coming out and the strength he has given those individuals. Yes, it

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was a big step forward for rug union. I saw a more relaxed, more

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happy referee. I think he wasn't performing as well as he is now when

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that was in the back of his mind. I think it did help his refereeing. He

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is a nice lad, he really is a nice lad. He is liked by a lot of

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people, you know? Something we know is that a lot of young lesbian, gay

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and trans people feel that sport is something that is not for them and

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they might not be safe there, that it's not somewhere that will be

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accepting and I think the importance of people like Nigel is that they

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show those young people that sport is a place for anyone. Referee is by

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nature are open to abuse from the crowd. So if you come out as the gay

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referee, you're putting yourself in a position where anything could

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happen. And it hasn't. And I think he has been the catalyst, the one

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person who has exhilarated all sport towards the point where if you find

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out that somebody is gay you just go, so what? But some fans still

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hurl homophobic abuse, which Nigel has had to tackle. English rugby

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bosses have launched an investigation after Welsh referee

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Nigel Owens was allegedly subjected to homophobic abuse. One supporter

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from Yorkshire reported the behaviour to the Rugby Football

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Union and brokered the guardian. He said he couldn't believe that a

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bunch of men were hurling such nasty, foulmouthed, racist and

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homophobic abuse and he said it made him feel ashamed. It does hurt when

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you hear those things and it is in the papers and the press. And, you

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know, people are phoning you up, can you comment on this? You think, do I

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really need to go through all of this again? But then knowing that it

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helps stamp it out and knowing that it helps encourage people to stand

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up and speak out against this type of abuse, because those are the

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people who make a difference. The people who make a difference other

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in the stadium who wrote that letter that day to the paper, who stood up

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and told people, this is not acceptable. People sent in letters

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afterwards and said they heard this. Those other people, the true heroes,

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who really make the difference in stamping out abuse, that shouldn't

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be a part of sport or society. Nigel now finds himself lauded like never

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before on the rugby circuit. Despite being a globetrotting sports

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star, Nigel hasn't moved from home and likes nothing down returning to

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his village to be with his family friends and community. He wears his

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Welshness with pride has been recognised for it. Swapping the

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rugby shirt for the green down, Nigel welcomed today with writers,

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poets, musicians and others, honoured for their contribution to

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Welsh life. He is proud to speak Welsh whenever he can, even when

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disciplining players on the pitch. He doesn't mind speaking English and

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Welsh and we have had a banter on the field in both languages. But he

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is far too sharp for me. I never answer back because, when it comes

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to banter, you don't mess with Nigel. He is a big lover of the

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Welsh language and speaks to other players in Welsh. And when you've

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got Samoans, Fijians and others playing, they don't have a clue what

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he's talking about and we have to telling off this occasionally. With

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his new celebrity status, Nigel was spurred on to write a book, laying

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bare the inner turmoil he suffered and how he battled through. The

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launch at a rugby club in 2008 was the last time his mother was able to

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leave the house. She died of cancer a couple of months later. It is

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unbelievable. They had to turn people away. People couldn't get

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into the club. Mum was there and she told me afterwards it meant a lot to

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her, knowing... I had just come out of the year before. It had been a

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difficult time for them and me. It was like she knew, OK, I can leave

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this world now knowing that people respect him and accept him for who

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he is. I lost a massive part of my life that night. That's when I lost

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my mum and every time when I lined up now at an international game I

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always, wherever the home countries, whenever they sing anthem, just for

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ten seconds or so I look up into the sky and just think about her. I did

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about her all the time and I look at the sky and just think about her for

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those ten seconds. Today, Nigel, at the age of 44, is

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the most senior referee on the international circuit, with 60 caps

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going into his third World Cup. He keeps his body fit and his mind as

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calm as possible. For every game he listens to the same Welsh hymn.

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SONG PLAYS. But, despite his experience, international matches

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don't get any easier. Especially at the scrum and breakdown. The key

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area of the game is the breakdown. You have to referee that well. If

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you do that then the game looks after itself, plus you have more

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breakdowns and tackles in the game than any other phase. That's where

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the continuity of the game comes from. You have so much to look for

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in that split second. Players run off their feet, sticking their hands

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where they shouldn't. There's negativity. You have to deal with

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it. You can deal with it, do know? Whereas the scrum, if the scrum

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becomes a total mess, both sides collapse. There's not much you can

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do about that. The only thing you can do is penalised them and give

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them a yellow card. When they come back on if they stay up there and

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you have done your job. It is difficult to referee, but you can

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sort it out if it needs it. Back at the World Cup, Nigel displays

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exceptional refereeing, letting play continue while talking to his

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television official about it possible dangerous tackle. Let's

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have a look! It was. Hi. OK. Nigel is now at the pinnacle of his

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powers. Whether this is his last World Cup, who knows? What is

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certain, he has helped bring rugby and sport into the 21st century. He

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is top bracket. He is of the very best in an age where referee

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standards are going up quickly. He is a pioneer in the age of

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professional refereeing on many fronts and he has helped push back

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the boundaries of officiating at just the right moments, because the

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game needs to be very carefully controlled. There is a sort of

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universal truth about rugby, it's a simple game, but it's a very

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difficult game to referee well. Rugby union is not only the greatest

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team sport in the world on the field, but without a shard of a

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doubt is the greatest team sport in the world off the field, because if

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it wasn't for rugby union than the players, spectators, the communities

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of rugby, I could never be who I am today. I certainly wouldn't be going

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to the World Cup to referee. That's for sure.

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For details of organisations which offer advice and support, go

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online, or call BBC Action Line to hear recorded information. Lines are

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open 24 hours and calls are free from landlines and mobiles.

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On the eve of the biggest game of his life, refereeing the World Cup Final, Nigel Owens is at the pinnacle of his career. Now he reflects upon the pressures of the modern game with the boon and burden of technology, about the private struggle with his own sexuality, coming out and tackling homophobic abuse, and about his love of the game and his family, community and Welshness. The documentary highlights some of Nigel's best known on-field quips and includes contributions from Shane Williams, Sarra Elgan, Jonathan Davies, Eddie Butler and the last Welshman to referee a Rugby World Cup Final in 1991, Derek Bevan.


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