Rugby star retires to fight homophobia

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The Independent Online

As England's world cup-winning winger, rugby union star Ben Cohen has faced down his fair share of immovable obstacles. Now, after hanging up his boots for the last time, the 32-year-old is taking on sport's most formidable opponent: homophobia. This week Cohen, who won 57 caps and scored 31 tries for his country, sets out on a tour of the US on behalf of a new foundation set up in his name, devoted to fighting homophobia in sport.

Although not gay himself, Cohen has become a gay icon in recent years and has decided to use his high profile to support gay and lesbian sportspeople struggling to come to terms with their sexuality in an unforgiving environment.

Rights campaigners have hailed rugby's leading role in promoting diversity, whilst condemning "reticence" on the part of football bosses to support gay players. To date only one English footballer, Justin Fashanu, has come out as gay.

"Rugby has been leading the way on diversity," said Ruth Hunt, director of public affairs for gay, lesbian and bisexual rights charity Stone- wall. "When heterosexual people take leadership roles it has an impact on the perceptions of younger, straight players which has a big impact on the culture of a sport."

Ben Cohen's Acceptance Tour, which began in the UK last month, will visit six American cities.