There are many rugby matches I have attended that have left me with a feeling of being inspired and uplifted, but very few rugby related events have provided me with such optimism, and hope for the future, as the evening I spent at the London School of Economics this week, where an illustrious panel spoke about sexism and homophobia in rugby.
The panel consisted of Nigel Owens who needs no introduction,Irish rugby writer and journalist Kate Rowan together with Heather Taylor, one of the creators of the brilliant “This girl can” campaign , Claire Purdy England star and World Cup winner, and Pedro Dias Ferreira from the Kings Cross Steelers, the first gay rugby club.
Nigel Owens took the podium he took the floor he took everyone’s hearts and minds and you could have heard a pin drop as he spoke with sincerity modesty and his unique sense of humour
He had us hooked with the first line “I grew up in a little village called Pontberem in West Wales ,in the 1970s”.
“Now if you want to know what Ponteberem was like in the 1970s ,then just go there now”
I won’t report all of Nigel’s great stories ,as you might get to hear him speak yourselves one day, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the suprise, but he did entertain us, as well as reveal some very personal recollections that clearly moved him, and those of us in the audience.
Two great bits of wisdom :
“Never underestimate the influence that you have on others”
“One of the biggest challenges in life is accepting who you are”
You pity the poor soul who has to follow Nigel Owens, but we needn’t have worried ,as Irish rugby writer, and journalist, Kate Rowan used her relaxed and humorous Celtic charm as the perfect foil to the Welsh whistler.
Kate revealed her personal journey and the horrific sexism she had endured whilst trying to carve out a career in the game she loves.
She got to the stage where she was going to pack it all in, but thankfully she came out the other side and has become a popular figure on both sides of the Irish Sea and beyond.
England women’s rugby star Claire Purdy underlined what I have seen in my reporting of women’s rugby, that those who ridicule the women’s game are the ones who have never watched it her message was “come and watch it for yourself ”
Those that haven’t watched women’s rugby at the top level are in for a big shock.
Those who witnessed last years women’s 6 nations , as I was fortunate enough to do, will know what I am talking about, the France v Wales match was a absolutely brutal and the skill sets of all the teams are superb .
Finally Julia Ryland a player for the LSE superbly delivered the closing remarks and introduced a film made by the men’s and women’s rugby teams at the LSE which showed their commitment to stamp out sexism in rugby.
A glass of chilled white wine and canapés and this old journo left the building for once feeling the future is in safe hands.