Rugby Union

Nigel Owens.

Nigel Owens finally issues a response to Austin Healey for 'celebrity ref' jibe

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Football News

Austin Healey raised a point in one of his recent Telegraph columns that caused quite a ripple in the rugby world.

He raised some question marks about the recent performances of beloved Welsh referee Nigel Owens.

The former England international argued that the Welshman's ability to control a game was being compromised by a thirst for celebrity.

Writing in his column, he wrote the following incendiary words about the high profile whistler: “There is no doubt that Nigel falls into the category of celebrity referee.

“No other referee comes close to matching his public profile. He has his own talk show. He has his own newspaper column in which he discussed Brexit this week. In fact I can’t think of a referee in any sport who has built up a profile like his and being able to pull it off.

“My question is whether that is affecting his ability to referee? Was Nigel Owens a better referee four or five years ago than he is today? I believe he was.”

Owens did not immediately respond to what amounted to an extremely hard-hitting attack from the controversial pundit. However, in his most recent column for WalesOnline, the referee has refuted Healey's claims in a composed and deeply felt retort.

"I would have thought doing [refereeing] Pontyberem versus Tumble under nines on a Sunday morning, the Bridgend Festival and various community games which I try to say yes to, is a million miles away from being a so-called ‘celebrity referee’," he said.

"Be that as it may, what I can tell you is that I’m not even a celebrity, let alone a celebrity ref. I don’t like that thought one bit.

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"If I got to the stage where I genuinely believed other things were more important, or getting in the way of my refereeing, then it would be time for me to pack up.

"Where Austin disappointed me was in saying I put myself on a pedestal. Let me assure you, I do anything but.

"It was an honour to be asked to referee the World Cup final. That is the highlight of any referee or player's career. It is what we work towards and I’m no different to anyone else.

"The work I do for charity, or when I speak up for inclusion, diversity and equality, also puts me in the public domain, I suppose.

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"But I don’t do, or say, these things because I want to be a celebrity. I do it because sharing stories helps people. I appreciate being an international referee has given me a profile, but when I speak up on LGBT matters it is because that is what is perfectly normal for me, not because of any so-called celebrity status. or seeking a limelight."

Powerful words from a referee who has long since gained the respect of the rugby world, something that Healey's headline grabbing punditry has often failed to do.

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