By Sarah Holt and Alex Thomas
As an openly gay figure in one of the most masculine of sports Nigel Owens is a rarity — but he might never have achieved his iconic status in rugby union if he had gone ahead with plans for a chemical castration.
The Welshman, who came out in 2007, seriously considered the drastic procedure because his sexuality left him so uncomfortable.
Owens, whose tough reputation saw him chosen to referee the 2015 World Cup final, said accepting himself was the biggest challenge of his career.
“I didn’t want to be gay,” Owens, who came out in 2007, told CNN. “I actually went to the doctor at one stage to see if I could be chemically castrated in any way, if it would get rid of me being gay.
“Looking back at that it was a horrific thing that one would have to do but that’s what I was going through at the time.
“It was only when my Mum came to see me in hospital when I tried to take my own life and she told me: ‘If you try to do anything like this again then you take me and Dad with you because we don’t want to live our lives without you.’
“I was an only child. I sat up in bed that night and I cried. I thought to myself that I need to grow up here. That’s when I accepted who I was and that was the biggest challenge of my life over with.
“A lot of people are struggling with who they are. They can’t tell other people they’re gay because they’re fighting it themselves. That’s one of the reasons a lot of people are not out in sport yet.”
Owens still faces ignorance and prejudice from a vocal minority and in March the Welshman spoke about how he had been the target of internet trolls.
However, he believes the muscular world of rugby union is way ahead of other global sports when it comes to accepting gay stars, although Gareth Thomas became the first professional player to open up about his sexuality as recently as 2009.
“Times have changed a lot from that dark night when I was worrying about if I could carry on with my refereeing or being myself,” Owens added.
“Everybody knows who I am as far as my sexuality is concerned and when everybody at the World Rugby Awards stands up and applauds me that says a lot.
“Rugby has led the way here and shown to people you can be who you are. I’ve proved that. Gareth Thomas has shown that as well.
“Some people have said that rugby isn’t safe but I think rugby has proved that it’s safe to be who you are.
“It annoys me sometimes when people say rugby is homophobic. Things have changed without a shadow of a doubt.
“The diversity in rugby is there for everyone. That’s why I’ve said many times, it’s not only the greatest team sport in the world on the field, in my view, but the greatest team sport off the field too.”