I have a natural instinct to trust sportspeople - I don't mean any one who plays sport, but anyone I classify as a 'sportsperson', anyone I see as having the qualities of true sportsmanship: integrity, honesty, passion, dedication, respect and humility. The kind of person who would 'walk' if they know they were caught out, who would stand and take the telling off from the official that's half their size, who would applaud a genuinely fantastic piece of play from an opposition side, who would never even dream of simulating or trying to escalate trouble.
I have a lot of love for the game of rugby; I see the qualities of sportsmanship in many, many of the players in the top tiers and the creeping edge of football style simulation and crowd baying for cards is mildly concerning to me. What stops this being a full-blown worry though is the presence of referees like Nigel Owens.
Nigel Owens is one of my heroes, he is widely respected in the world of rugby as one of the best officials; accurate and sure of his own decisions without needing to go to the TMO every thirty seconds, and yet willing to be honest and upfront when he makes a (rare) mistake. He speaks to the players clearly and concisely, never being vague about his rulings. He controls the games with a firm hand but with a dry wit, never mean or harshly biting, just genuinely funny at times!
"The football stadium is 500 yards that way…"
I think the main appeal to me here is the manner in which he goes about his job; it appeals to me as an autistic person because he is so clear in his decision making, so set in the way he wants things do, so in charge and unwilling to be intimidated by anyone.
I don't know if its the brilliant one-liners like his "I'm straighter than that!" quip about a dodgy line-out or the awe-inspiring way he lays down the law to the huge 8ft/40 stone monsters around him but he is without a doubt one my favourite sportsmen of this generation and a name I am always happy to see on a match day line-up. Even if he is Welsh.
“I’m not like some refs who could quote you the number of the law, with or without the brackets, of course I know them. But knowing the laws too well and technically applying those laws, well you’ll never have a game of rugby. You’ve got to have a bit of empathy as well.”