Former Welsh Rugby International Gareth Thomas has once again made history this weekend, not for his achievements on the pitch this time, although there have been plenty of those in his extensive career; but by coming out as gay. This makes him the only openly gay professional rugby player still in the game. Thomas, who is Wales’ most capped player, still plays at a club level for Cardiff Blues, having retired from International Rugby in 2007.
Thomas revelation follows Irish Hurling star Donal Óg Cusack’s announcement that he was gay earlier this year. What makes Thomas’ coming out exceptional, is not only that he has chosen to come out whilst still playing at an elite level, but also that he has used the opportunity to publicise the work of the children’s charity NSPCC and their national helpline, which receives 3,500 calls from young men every year in relation to their sexuality. In an interview at the weekend, Thomas states:
“I don’t know if my life is going to be easier because I’m out, but if it helps someone else, if it makes one young lad pick up the phone to Childline, then it will have been worth it.”
In interviews this weekend, Gareth Thomas has acknowledged that he was aware of his sexuality as early as 16 or 17 years old, but that he himself could not accept it. As Lou Englefield, Director of the UK sports development organisation, Pride Sports explains:
“We have come a long way in improving the rights and visibility of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the UK, but a recent report by the National Union of Teachers highlights that homophobic abuse is still rife in UK schools. Meanwhile, young gay men are four times more likely to commit suicide than the population as a whole and as Gareth Thomas himself explains, many young people are still afraid of making their sexuality known. Having great gay sporting heroes is hugely important for all young LGB athletes and even for those of us who don’t play or follow sport. Knowing that you can be gay and achieve in all walks of life is invaluable to the self-esteem and personal development of all young LGB people”