Nick Heath is a sports commentator and presenter, ambassador for the Harlequins Foundation and England Rugby diversity role model. He and his husband are also the co- founders of Pride in Touch, a non-profit organisation improving LGBTQ+ participation in Touch Rugby.
What drew you and continues to keep you involved in rugby?
Nick Heath: Family first of all and that sense of the wider rugby family is a real thing too. That and the comradery element of giving what you can on the pitch, where labels and who you are doesn’t matter, is really powerful.
There is a lack of openness in (professional) rugby (men more than women); why do you think that is and what could help improve this?
Nick Heath: I’m not entirely sure I agree here. I think the ongoing evolution of men talking about their personal development and their mental health has brought us on so much from where the old fashioned “men don’t talk about emotions” era. I respect an element of privacy and focus on being a rugby professional at the top of the game but obviously, visibility matters when it comes to role models or those looking to identify with people at the top – whether that’s someone who is LGBTQ+ or a diabetic, maybe dyslexic, anything that helps non-elite athletes see themselves in their heroes.
You’re working with the Kings Cross Steelers in regards to language and communication in rugby; why do you think language is so important and what would you like to see done??
Nick Heath: Language is constantly evolving and therefore education is needed to help people understand what may not be acceptable anymore, and in some cases what has never been acceptable! The use of pejorative and negative language, whether it’s abusive, stereotypical or lazy, can impact massively on individuals. You also never know what someone else is going through so it’s important to be aware of where your teammates might be at. Listening to others and hearing about experiences different from your own goes a long way towards helping drive empathy and a more positive culture.
Some grass roots traditional clubs struggle with old school toxicity; what would you suggest to such clubs looking to be more inclusive?
Nick Heath: Listen to your members. Ask people what they want the club to be and strive to achieve that. The loudest voices will always be heard but it’s about finding those who may not speak up and giving their views equal weight to anyone else. Inclusivity means it’s about everyone so what more can you do to include people who may have any number of barriers to getting the most out of your club – from access to help those who are less able, to supporting those who perhaps are on low income, to those who may feel their sexual orientation, skin colour or gender identity may mean they are less welcome. It takes time, thought and effort to make people feel included but the pay offs are immense.
You and your husband co- founded Pride in Touch; could you please explain a bit about this (what are the hopes and aims of Pride in Touch)?
Nick Heath: Touch, as a sport in its own right, is already an inclusive sport as not only can it be played as all-men or all-women but it can be played with mixed teams. We see the sport as having a massive opportunity to be a world leader where inclusivity is concerned. So, as two gay men who have played for England Touch internationally, we feel we are well placed to help educate and remove barriers to participation for LGBTQ+ people to ensure our sport does everything it can to be a sport for all. We aim to do this by training coaches, players and organisational bodies regarding inclusion, by putting on events and by selling more of our iconic eye-catching stash.
What match are you most proud to have worked at and why? Are there any particular lines/ quotes you said which you’re particularly proud of?
Nick Heath: I’m not one to categorise and remember too many specific occasions as I’m quite a live-in-the-moment person, so my most recent fond memory which will stick in the mind for a while, was calling the French men’s victory in Paris over the All Blacks (20th Nov 2021) – a simply incredible atmosphere and great performance. My next fondest memory was calling France v England women in Pau in 2020. It was the most assured, informed and relaxed I’ve ever felt on the mic, because I knew the two teams so well. I just hope that came across to viewers!