Rugby lion 'hopes to make a difference' with gay announcement

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The Independent Online

Rugby star Gareth Thomas today said he hoped he could make a difference to others struggling with their sexuality after disclosing he is gay.

The former Wales international full-back said he was grateful for the "amazing response" he had received after describing his fears of how people would react.

Thomas, Wales's most-capped player and a former British and Irish Lions captain, said: "I just want to thank everyone for the amazing response I have received, on behalf of me, my family and friends.

"I hope that by saying this I can make a big difference to others in my situation. But for now, I just want to focus on being a rugby player and beating my old club Toulouse."

Thomas and his team the Cardiff Blues will take on Toulouse in the Heineken Cup quarter final later today.

Earlier, in an interview with the Daily Mail, Thomas said the secret of his sexuality was like a "ticking bomb" which he had tried to suppress.

"I just couldn't ignore it any more," he told the newspaper.

He said he realised in summer 2006 that he could no longer live a lie.

He told his wife, Jemma, that he was gay and felt like his life was "falling apart" as his four-year marriage broke down.

Thomas said he was "scared of the future and being single again as a gay man".

The 6ft 3in, 16-stone rugby star said he broke down in tears in the changing rooms of the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, after playing for Wales in November 2006 and later told his secret to coach Scott Johnson.

Thomas said he was frightened about how his team-mates would react but said nobody distanced themselves from him and his family have also stood by him.

The player today received the full backing of both the Welsh Rugby Union and the Cardiff Blues.

Roger Lewis, WRU group chief executive, said: "Gareth Thomas is one of Welsh rugby's outstanding players, a former captain, he holds the national appearance record (100 caps) and has scored 40 tries for his country.

"He was at the helm for the 2005 RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam, Wales' first clean sweep in the annual competition since 1978, and also captained the British and Irish Lions during their summer tour of New Zealand earlier that year.

"Gareth is a rugby leader and also a man of great humour. He is most probably one of the most popular players amongst his peers. He has been an inspiration to generations of rugby followers and continues to play at the top level of the game with the Cardiff Blues.

"Just as we support Gareth at this time that stance will remain consistent for any player.

"Whilst Gareth's private life is entirely irrelevant to his career as an international sportsman it would be remiss of the WRU not to remind him of the high esteem in which he is held in the game in Wales at a time when he has decided to bring such personal reflections to public notice."

Robert Norster, Cardiff Blues chief executive, said: "Gareth Thomas is a credit to Cardiff Blues who has truly brought honour to the jersey as a formidable player and a strong leader.

"His private life is his own concern and we will continue to acknowledge him for the qualities he brings to the squad as a player and an individual who exemplifies the values of commitment, determination and fair play we expect from our team.

"Gareth will always be revered for his achievements as a player and he deserves his place of honour in Welsh rugby history.

"Our teams are selected on merit and we will always choose players with the talent and ability to achieve the demanding standards we now set."

Thomas decided to go public about his sexuality today to "send a positive message" to other gay people, especially young people considering a career in sport.

"It's been really tough for me, hiding who I really am, and I don't want it to be like that for the next young person who wants to play rugby, or some frightened young kid," he said.

Thomas, a supporter of the children's charity NSPCC, added: "I don't know if my life is going to be easier because I'm out, but if it helps someone else, if it makes one young lad pick up the phone to Childline, then it will have been worth it."

Thomas said he knew from the age of 16 or 17 that he was gay but could not accept it and feared it would affect his playing career.

He said he made up stories about girls to fit in with his male friends and felt he was sometimes overly aggressive as he played the straight man.

Thomas, who said he was never attracted to a team-mate, said rugby was his "saviour" as playing allowed him to escape from his personal confusion.

During the interview, Thomas admitted cheating on his wife with male partners and said he considered suicide as he felt so "horrible and guilty".

He said he still loved his estranged wife, who he describes as "the nicest person in the world".

Thomas said he did not want to be known as a "gay rugby player" and hoped people would treat his sexuality as "irrelevant".

"What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby," he said.

"I'd love for it, in 10 years' time, not to even be an issue in sport, and for people to say: 'So what?"'