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Rugby World Cup Final referee Nigel Owens explains how coming out made him better at his job

By Shaun Kitchener

Popular referees are virtually non-existent but Nigel Owens comes as close as you can get.

He’ll be overseeing the Rugby World Cup Final today on the biggest day of his career.


Originally a failed player himself, he has become one of the most prolific referees in the sporting world, and he says it’s coming to terms with his homosexuality that ultimately helped elevate him to his high standard.

Telling Radio Times that coming out was more frightening than the pressures of a huge rugby game, he said: “My life changed, my refereeing changed and it took off from there.

“Refereeing requires one thing more than anything else and that’s complete concentration for 80 minutes.

“Obviously if something is playing on your mind, you are going to lapse in and out of concentration. A happy referee is a good referee.”


He’s made some uncomfortable calls over the years: in 2013 he denied Ireland a victory over New Zealand by allowing the latter to retake a missed conversion in the final seconds.

“Pretty much everyone in the world who was watching wanted Ireland to win,” he recalls. “But as a referee you have to do what’s right.”

Nigel tried to kill himself in 1996 at the age of 24, after struggling to cope with his sexuality, becoming hooked on steroids, and battling depression and bulimia.


Miraculously, he was found and airlifted to hospital.

“The doctor said another 20 minutes and it would have been too late,” he said.

His struggle didn’t end there, but now, finally, he seems to be on top of the world.

Read the full interview here.