Austin Healey is certainly a man who is not afraid to speak his mind and in the aftermath of Munster’s Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Toulon at Thomond Park, Healey criticised the performance of Nigel Owens and labelled him a ‘celebrity referee’ in his column for The Telegraph.
Owens is a referee many people have differing opinions on – some laud him for letting the game flow and encouraging running rugby but is also criticised for casting a blind eye to certain offences and also for having too much ‘banter’ with players during a game.
Nevertheless, he remains one of the world’s top referees but Healey had this to say about Owens after that match in Limerick.
“There is no doubt that Nigel falls into the category of celebrity referee.
“No other referee comes close to matching his public profile. He has his own talk show. He has his own newspaper column in which he discussed Brexit this week. In fact I can’t think of a referee in any sport who has built up a profile like his and being able to pull it off.
“My question is whether that is affecting his ability to referee? Was Nigel Owens a better referee four or five years ago than he is today? I believe he was.”
However, has responded to this in his column for WalesOnline and outlines his disappointment that Healey believes he puts himself on a pedestal and that any media work that Owens does is because he wants to speak up for ‘inclusion, diversity and equality’.
“I would have thought doing [refereeing] Pontyberem versus Tumble under nines on a Sunday morning, the Bridgend Festival and various community games which I try to say yes to, is a million miles away from being a so-called ‘celebrity referee’.
“Be that as it may, what I can tell you is that I’m not even a celebrity, let alone a celebrity ref. I don’t like that thought one bit.
“If I got to the stage where I genuinely believed other things were more important, or getting in the way of my refereeing, then it would be time for me to pack up.
“Where Austin disappointed me was in saying I put myself on a pedestal. Let me assure you, I do anything but.
“It was an honour to be asked to referee the World Cup final. That is the highlight of any referee or player’s career. It is what we work towards and I’m no different to anyone else.
“The work I do for charity, or when I speak up for inclusion, diversity and equality, also puts me in the public domain, I suppose.
“But I don’t do, or say, these things because I want to be a celebrity. I do it because sharing stories helps people. I appreciate being an international referee has given me a profile, but when I speak up on LGBT matters it is because that is what is perfectly normal for me, not because of any so-called celebrity status. or seeking a limelight.”