Nigel Owens has revealed an exchange himself and Jefferson Poirot had when he noticed the French prop was wearing rainbow-coloured laces.
Owens, who recently retired from officiating international rugby after he became the first person to referee 100 test matches, came out as gay in 2005.
The rainbow laces are worn by players to show their support for members of the LGBTQ+ community in rugby, and was much-appreciated by Owens when he went to check on Poirot who was down injured in France’s match against England in 2018.
Owens on inclusivity.
“Inclusivity and diversity; it means a lot to me obviously and I think it’s a hugely important part of, not just society and every day life, but in sport as well.
“It is a continuing fight and a challenge every day because sadly, there is a minority of people who don’t like people for whatever various different reasons.
“[Poirot] was down injured and I just noticed when I went to check if he was okay, I just noticed that he was wearing the rainbow laces.
“I said, ‘Oh, I like your laces.’ And he said to me, ‘It’s very important that I show my support.’ And that’s what it is. It’s just showing their support.
“It meant a lot to me and it means a lot to people who are struggling and who are scared of being found out of who they are,” Owens said.
The Welsh referee explained how rugby helped him through some tough times in the past, saying how he will always owe more to the sport than it could ever owe to him.
“When I came out in 2005, I think it was, I had messages from all over the world from fellow referees, supporters, coaches and players. Text messages, social media messages, showing their support and that meant a lot.
“Some of those players, they didn’t come out in public to say they supported me, but they sent me a message and that was enough. I wouldn’t have been able to get through those difficult times if it wasn’t for rugby as a sport.”