Gareth Thomas is one of the most decorated rugby players in Welsh history. Over a career spanning 12 years, Thomas made 100 appearances for the Welsh National Team, scoring 200 points and becoming the second highest try scorer behind Shane Williams. He also enjoyed a fantastic club career with teams such as Bridgend, Cardiff RFC and Toulouse. As well as being a hero and role
model to the world on the pitch, Gareth Thomas is equally inspirational on the other side of the white line. A man who has received much abuse and was attacked last November in Cardiff, must be admired for his courage and determination following his public announcement that he lives with HIV.
2009 was a big year for Gareth Thomas. But it was equally a big year for male sexuality and sportspeople, when Thomas revealed that he was gay. This was a massive advancement for the awareness of male sexuality in breaking the stigma. Thomas became one of the highest profile sportspeople to come out as gay, and he has remained strong through any criticism he has received.
In a video Gareth released a few weeks ago, he announced to the world that he was living with HIV. Thomas shared an emotional video on social media, having been blackmailed by a couple of journalists who found out. After making the statement, Thomas said “That makes me extremely vulnerable, but it does not make me weak”. `Having composed himself again, Gareth explained
“Even though I’ve been forced to tell you this, I choose to fight to educate and break the stigma around this subject”. The bravery it takes to make such a big statement is admirable. A man who was strong enough to reveal his sexuality in a time when very few people did, shows the fearlessness of one of the greatest full backs the game of rugby has seen. “I don’t want people to treat me
differently…. I’m not ill”. When speaking to Phil and Holly on ‘This Morning’, Thomas addressed the real problems and situations encountered by people living with the virus “All of a sudden people look at you different, treat you different, they speak to you different or they act different”.
There has been a stigma around HIV for a long time, but with inspirations such as Gareth fighting against it, one can only hope that better support is provided across the board. People have many preconceptions about viruses such as HIV, and Gareth is aware of the apprehensions surrounding it. One striking point made by Thomas in the interview was about his brother who he thought might
“Be afraid of me cuddling my niece or wanting to hold people”. Thomas fought back tears as he expressed “I didn’t want to scare everybody, I wanted to protect everybody”. After Thomas’ statement, he described the importance of his husband and how he helped him through his ordeal. “He has been a beacon of light for me. Stephen was the only reason I got through the dark times”. As Gareth said himself, revealing his secret leaves him vulnerable, but his honesty will help so many other people facing the same struggle. In an age where mental health is commonly mentioned, it is vital that a public figure like Gareth tells their story and people realise that it is important to express themselves and acknowledge their feelings.