International rugby players, including New Zealand’s World Cup-winning All Blacks, have taken to the field wearing rainbow laces in a show of support for former Wales captain, Gareth Thomas, who was recently victim of a homophobic attack.
Stadiums across Britain were awash with rainbow flags on Saturday, as fans also rallied behind Thomas during rights group Stonewall’s annual Rainbow Laces campaign, aimed at stamping out homophobia in sport.
“I wish I could put in words what this means”, Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009 and retired in 2011, said on Twitter.
Referees officiated premiership rugby matches in a specially designed kit that incorporated rainbow stripes.
Stonewall launched its campaign in 2013 to fight lingering homophobia within the sporting world. Many international players have donned rainbow laces in the past week, including those from Wales, France and the United States.
Blaine Scully, captain of the US men’s national team, said on Twitter he was wearing rainbow laces in support of Thomas.
“It’s not about your gender, race, religion or sexuality – it’s about what you do on the field”, he said.
Thomas posted a video on social media last week saying he had suffered cuts and bruises after being attacked in the Welsh capital Cardiff.
He said he had opted for “restorative justice” with the 16-year-old boy involved, which meant he could address his attacker, rather than press charges.
Last year, Stonewall said it had distributed more than 75,000 pairs of rainbow laces as part of its campaign, which it estimated reached 12 million people.
On its website, the campaign group said it had seen an 8 percent decline in 2017 in the number of sports fans aged between 18 and 34 who thought homophobic language was acceptable.
“Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain a problem at all levels of sport”, the group said.
Out LGBT+ sports stars remain relatively rare, but a number of high-profile figures have declared their sexuality in recent years, including British Olympic boxing gold medallist, Nicola Adams, British diver, Tom Daley and US figure skater, Adam Rippon.
-Hugo Greenhalgh, Thomson Reuters Foundation