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Rugby will react well to Gareth Thomas - Clive Woodward

Gareth Thomas (left) and Sir Clive Woodward at a media conference to announce Thomas as Lions captain in 2005
Woodward praised the influence of Thomas on the 2005 Lions tour

Former England and Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward believes rugby union will react positively to Gareth Thomas's revelation that he is gay.

Woodward said Thomas was one of the "toughest" players he had worked with and that, as far as he was concerned, Thomas's sexuality was "irrelevant".

"I'm sure rugby will take it in its stride," Woodward told Sportsweek.

"If anyone doesn't take that attitude then they've got the problem, rather than Gareth having a problem."

Thomas was an integral part of the Lions party Woodward led to New Zealand in 2005, taking over as captain after Brian O'Driscoll was injured in the first minute of the first Test.

The Lions lost the Test series 3-0, but Woodward told BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek programme he would put Thomas "right at the top of the tree on what was a very tough Lions tour".

Woodward added: "He was one of the few players who really did front up - that's why I made him captain for the second and third Test matches.

"I'm sure this will all die down after a few days of press and, as I say, from a sports point of view I'm sure rugby will take it in its stride like most other sports have."


Asked about Thomas' hope that being a gay sportsman will not be an issue in 10 years' time, Woodward said: "I don't think it's an issue today, but well done him for making the comments he's made."

Scott Johnson, an assistant coach with Wales in 2006 when Thomas told him he was gay, said he is "proud" to know the player.

"Gareth is as brave off the field as he is on the field," Johnson, now coach of Welsh region the Ospreys, told BBC Radio 5 live.

"As a coach, you don't get to be a hero worshipper of many players, but he will always go down as a special player and a special human being."

Thomas has recalled the day he broke down in tears after Wales' draw with Australia in Cardiff in November 2006, confiding in Johnson about his sexuality in the medical room at the Millennium Stadium.

"It was a tough old day at the office, that one," Johnson recalled. "He confided in some team-mates and they swarmed around him and protected the kid. It was a very proud period.

In football, in men's team sports, there are a number of (gay) people, and in the Premier League certainly there are

Ex-NBA player John Amaechi

"I was privileged that he wanted to confide in me, and people helped him. That says so much about what this sport is about.

"I think society has changed. Gareth is free now really. It is really no-one else's business, but it probably helps younger players to believe that it is OK to come out and be what you are."

However, former NBA star John Amaechi, who came out in 2007 after retiring from professional basketball, warned that homophobia is still around, even if it is only a minority of people who feel that way.

"Those people still exist, and in some cases they exist in very powerful positions," he told Sportsweek.

"Even if 90% of people have grown up, there is a 10% out there, often in quite influential positions, who haven't.

"We have, luckily, got past the point where people are naïve enough to believe that 'real men' only exist in certain areas and that gay people aren't real men.

"I think we have got past the point where people look at sports and imagine that everybody there is heterosexual."

Amaechi added that Thomas may have to get used to being defined by his sexuality by some people, rather than by his achievements as an international sportsman.

The former Cleveland, Orlando and Utah player revealed that "life did change a little bit" for him after coming out.

"When people learn you are gay, oftentimes that can squash your definition so that all that good stuff goes and you just become 'some gay rugby player', which is quite difficult for many athletes to deal with," added Amaechi.

He also warned that there are still many people involved in sport whose homophobia makes it difficult for sportsmen and women to be open about their sexuality.

"In football, in men's team sports, there are a number of (gay) people, and in the Premier League certainly there are," he said.

"The reason we don't see them, the reason that in the last Olympics there were only nine 'out' people out of all those athletes, is not because gay and lesbian people are cowards who don't play sport, it's because sport still needs to grow up in certain areas.

"As much as society has moved on, sport is dragging still behind."

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see also
Ex-Lion Thomas reveals he is gay
19 Dec 09 |  Welsh
Ref Owens reveals troubled times
05 Feb 09 |  Welsh
Gay referee's 'coming out' ordeal
05 Dec 08 |  South west
World Cup rugby ref's gay award
02 Nov 07 |  Wales
Irish sports star says he is gay
24 Oct 09 |  Europe
NBA's Amaechi reveals he is gay
08 Feb 07 |  Basketball
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales

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