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Last Updated: Friday, 2 November 2007, 21:32 GMT
World Cup rugby ref's gay award
Nigel Owens (C) watches Australia's fly-half Berrick Barnes (L) tackle Fiji's winger Vilimoni Delasau during the rugby union World Cup match Australia vs. Fidji, 23 September 2007 Photo: PASCAL GUYO
Nigel Owens made his Rugby World Cup referee debut this autumn
Top rugby referee Nigel Owens has been named sportsperson of the year at a gay awards ceremony in London.

Owens, from Carmarthenshire, made his Rugby World Cup debut last month, and is regarded as the first openly gay man to referee at the highest level.

The 36-year-old said winning the award was "up there with being elected to referee the Rugby Word Cup".

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said Owens was a great role model for all young sportsmen and women across Wales.

Organised by gay rights group Stonewall, the awards recognised those who had raised the profile of gay people in the world of sport, acted as role models, and challenged homophobia.

There are close-knit communities in Wales in which people are prepared to help each other, but on the other side, are prepared to discuss each other
Nigel Owens

Owens said he was honoured to win the award, and praised the work of Stonewall and other similar organisations.

He said although he had come out for his own piece of mind, he was glad if it had helped others.

"Just by coming out in the public eye it obviously made news, and obviously if it helps people in that way, than that's great," he said.

"It was no intention of mine to raise my profile as a person for being gay.

"I'm just a normal person living a normal life."

Peter Hain  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Wales should be very proud indeed of Nigel Owens
Peter Hain

Speaking on BBC Radio Cymru, Owens said although rugby was a "macho" sport, being gay had not affected his career.

He said: "I get my legs pulled, but then I pull others' legs as well.

"Humour is part of the game and it's something that helped me cope with coming out."

Owens said coming from a small west Wales village had made it more difficult to tell people he was gay.

He said: "There are close-knit communities in Wales in which people are prepared to help each other, but on the other side, are prepared to discuss each other.

"If you live in the middle of London, nobody knows you and nobody cares."

Mr Hain said Owens had used his talent and skills to rise to the top of his game, without "shirking the issue" of his sexuality.

He said: "Wales should be very proud indeed of Nigel Owens.

"His courage will hopefully mean sport becomes more accepting and in the future others will not suffer homophobic bullying or discrimination."



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