James Child opens up on how coming out impacted his career

James Child has been one of the sport’s finest referees of the last decade and more in particular his officiating in Super League.

Match officials can always be a point of contention with fans claiming bias or that they can become too involved, but in a period of criticism towards officials Child stood out for his professionalism and elite standards.

That’s something he was wary could change when he made the decision to announce publicly that he was gay, as revealed to the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast.

“I wrestled with it for such a long time and went through different emotions,” he stated, having previously announced his sexuality to the wider rugby league world via the same podcast two years prior.

In a sport that can be at times pigeon-holed as one of extreme masculinity it’s important to show to LGBT people but also everybody that rugby league is inclusive for everyone.

Child’s decision followed the likes of player Keegan Hirst and Australian referee Matt Cecchin in ‘coming out’, or at least discussing their sexuality publicly and he was caught off guard by the reaction to his announcement.

“To receive messages from across the game was tremendous, and it shows the impact of people being open and talking about their sexuality.

“One or two reached out to me and I was able to have conversations with them, and to this day I still am in contact with people about their struggles or whether coming out is something they should do.

“It certainly would have helped me as a young boy growing up to see somebody out in rugby league circles – a sport that I had enjoyed and admired, but probably felt that I never would be able to play a part in.”

It also helped him in his profession he believes, something he sadly called time on following the World Cup.

“Maybe I imagined it, but I felt I got a bit more respect from players on the field. Perhaps I was just a little more comfortable in myself, although I don’t think I changed!”

More specifically on his decision to hang up the whistle he spoke openly about the impact having a family has had on him.

“I’ve been refereeing since I was 11 and I’m 40 this year, so it was a big decision,” Child told the BBC.

“To some degree, the motivation was the change in family circumstances. In many ways, the logistics of refereeing make it difficult to plan life and don’t lend themselves particularly well to having a family.”

He’d earlier talked about treasuring the memory of his husband and son proudly watched him officiate a Challenge Cup semi-final, just one of the major events that rugby league will miss Child’s presence at going forward.

“I couldn’t have imagined a situation like that as a young man growing up.

“I didn’t anticipate getting married, and I certainly didn’t anticipate having a child. Being able to live my life so openly, as a straight person would do, was fantastic and exactly as it should be.”

To listen to Child’s full story you can listen here.

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