Nigel Owens offers advice to the football referee who has retired after suffering homophobic abuse

Leading rugby referee reacts to situation as he speaks to Newstalk Sports' Daniel Kelly

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Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

"You shouldn't have to choose between participating in the sport you love or being who you are."

That is the view of leading rugby referee Nigel Owens as he reacted to the news that Jesus Tomillero, Spain's first openly-gay football referee, has retired after suffering homophobic abuse during games.

Owens, who refereed the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, was speaking to Newstalk Sports' Daniel Kelly this afternoon.

"My life changed for the better once I came out. I was struggling with who I was. I was fighting against it. I was worrying whether I was going to be able to continue refereeing. Nobody had tread the water really to see how players, officials or players would react," he told Dan of his own experience of coming out in 2007.

"How is the rugby public going to react? Am I going to have to give up refereeing? That was a constant worry. That’s why I made the decision. It was for my own well-being. When I came out, the positives outweighed the negatives by a long, long, long, long way."

Tomillero came out publicly just over a year ago after he was subjected to homophobic abuse in a game in March 2015.

Jesus Tomillero

However, he has had to endure regular abuse since then and the tipping point which led to him retiring was an incident when "everyone in the crowd laughed" following abuse inflicted on him after awarding a penalty during a match.

On Monday, he handed in his resignation to footballing authorities in his region of Andalusia in southern Spain, ending an officiating career which had began at the age of 11.

With the real possibility that Tomillero could unfortunately be lost to the game, Owens told Dan that he has advice for his fellow referee.

"A lot of this abuse, probably wasn’t personal. It was just the nature of football chants unfortunately," he said.

"If I was him, and this is for him to decide. Take a bit of time out of the game. Don't give in. Don’t let that minority ruin what could be a wonderful career. I’m pretty sure that the majority of decent football players and fans would not condone what has happened and would support Jesus in the proper way.

"Take a step back and be strong. Try and rise above it and try not take it personally. A lot of it is not personal. It is just the culture at the time of abuse that comes from the terraces."

He also compared their experiences given that they both came out at different points in their lives.

"When I came out at 32 or 33 I was already established in the community. I do think that the time I came out and where I was at in my life and career certainly helped me and my career. Jesus has come out at 21-years-of age at the start of his career, so it’s even more difficult. Maybe if he came out in a few years time as a professional or international referee, then maybe the support and respect around him may have been different," he said.