Neil Francis’s remarks provoke strong reaction

Rugby referee Nigel Owens rejects comments that gay people lack interest in sport

International rugby referee Nigel Owens disappointed with  comments from former rugby player Neil Francis’s gay remarks. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

International rugby referee Nigel Owens disappointed with comments from former rugby player Neil Francis’s gay remarks. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 16:52

Prominent sport figures have strongly criticised former rugby player Neil Francis’s claims gay people are “not interested in sports”.

International rugby referee Nigel Owens and GAA players have voiced their concerns on social media about comments made from the player-turned-pundit.

Francis spoke on Newstalk’s Off the Ball yesterday and when asked by presenter Joe Molloy if he believed the percentage of gay people involved in sport was lower than the 10 per cent, which is the estimate of the general population who are gay, he said he suspected “that nowhere near 10 per cent. I would say in the smaller margin of 1 per cent.”

He said that professional sport “by its very nature” was not something gay people would be interested in and immediately added that he did not “have an interest in ballet.”

International referee Nigel Owens said Mr Francis should consider the effect his comments could have on young sports people struggling with their sexuality. “People like Neil Francis, who a lot of people still look up to, need to think long and hard about what he’s saying. I came within a few minutes of taking my own life [while coming to terms with his sexuality]. Remarks like this don’t help people,” he told Pat Kenny on Newstalk.

“He needs to sit down and have a good look at himself before coming out with comments like that.”

Owens said times had changed since Francis retired from international rugby in 1996.

“There are many gay people in sport,” he said.

Owens, who has been openly gay since 2005, said he never had any issues since he came out and said he disagreed that dressing rooms were “a homophobic place”.

“I’ve been in the dressing rooms of some of the best teams in the world and I’ve never detected anything approaching that,” he said.

He also said on his Twitter account he was “disappointed” with the comments.

“There are loads of gay people in sport. Most are just not out. Wish they would stop stereotyping.

“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.”

GAA player Conor Cusack who has recently spoken publicly about being gay said: “Apparently people like me don’t play ‘manly’ sports so looking forward to training tomorrow night in the ‘unmanly’ sport of hurling

“11 broken bones in hands, snapped cruciates 7 knee operations lips sliced in half requiring plastic surgery 6 teeth blown out #unmanlysport”

Irish rugby star Jamie Heaslip retweeted the comments from both Cusack and Owens.

Francis rejected suggestions that his comments were generalisations or homophobic and said in his experience rugby dressing-rooms were homophobic places.

Cork GAA player Eoin Cadogan criticised Francis’s comments as being “small-minded”.

“Categorising people &putting them in boxes is the type of attitude that needs changing.”