Having helped bring Rainbow Laces into darts, PDC referee Huw Ware has spent the last year as a Stonewall Sport Champion. He tells Sky Sports why the campaign means so much to him, and the important role that allies can play
Saturday 28 November 2020 12:38, UK
Huw Ware's role as a darts referee requires him to pay close attention but it's conversations away from the oche in the last couple of years that have sharpened his focus too.
He's officiating once again this weekend at the Players Championship Finals in Coventry, where the PDC is activating Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign in the sport for a third successive year. Ware had been out since February 2014 but his involvement with the LGBT+ equality message increased his own visibility.
That's made him very proud, and he's crystal clear on how it relates to his job too. "It's great to see Rainbow Laces continue in darts," he tells Sky Sports. "For me, I've always been told by the PDC that the reason why I'm up on stage in the first place is because I'm good enough. It's not to tick boxes. To be honest, that means a lot. I always wanted to be a darts referee who just happens to be gay."
People have got in touch with me and I think that just shows that the campaign works. I would love for it to stay in darts for many years to come.
The context of why the campaign gets annual coverage has been crucial for the 27-year-old. As a young man representing the sport he loves, he's approachable, affable and happy to engage with others on social media. Sharing his story has encouraged others to open up to him too.
"The conversations that I've had with people when we've spoken about Rainbow Laces and what we've done in darts, I know it's had a positive effect," he says.
"Particularly so for the people who play in the pubs, for their counties, or in Super Leagues - in the community side of the game. Some have got in touch with me. I think that just shows that the campaign works. I would love for it to stay in darts for many years to come."
Ware got the opportunity to talk through some of his experiences as part of Sky Sports' 'I'm Game' series last year, when comedians Stephen K Amos and Stephen Bailey took part in a one-off challenge at the Grand Slam in Wolverhampton.
Amos and Bailey were schooled in the basics by Gerwyn Price and Dimitri Van den Bergh before throwing in front of fans, with Ware keeping order and calling the scores.
"That was wonderful to be a part of. The two Stephens genuinely enjoyed meeting Dimitri and Gezzy - they were very nervous about playing darts on stage with a crowd but I think they really enjoyed it. Getting to speak to them about my personal experiences was definitely a highlight."
As part of the episode, Amos pondered the challenges that an LGBT+ person might face in sport. The comedian said: "I can totally understand why people in these traditionally macho, male-heavy sports arenas be it darts, football, rugby, don't want to come out. We live in an era where people are still very ready and quick to judge you.
"The impact of somebody who has the strength or courage to come out as a professional sportsman or sportswoman is incredible. The ripple effect is immeasurable."
With the theme of allyship running through this year's activation, Ware knows the impact that allies can have too. Price and Van den Bergh proved to be great sports and supporters in 'I'm Game', and other high-profile players have been getting involved too. Joe Cullen, Michael van Gerwen and Peter Wright are among those to have either spoken about Rainbow Laces or showed off the campaign colours
"That really does help, in a way much more than I could, because they are so high profile in nature," adds Ware. "When players speak up for something, people take notice, and that's been very important. It gets that message out there to the wider darts community.
"For fans or amateur players who are LGBT+, seeing somebody who they watch on television all the time talking about something that they relate to in such a personal way - that's bound to help."
Ware was among the inaugural group of Stonewall Sport Champions announced by the charity a year ago. He's now stepping back from the role as he wants to give someone else the opportunity instead.
"It's a shame the pandemic has interrupted a lot of what we wanted to do in our first year, but I'm so proud to have been involved," he says.
"There are issues that personally mean a lot to me, most of all the issue of trans equality - I've been able to lend my voice to that in a public way
"I'll always be there with Stonewall to fly the flag in my own way but now I just feel it's time to step back a little bit. The best thing I can provide is visibility."
With the rise of the women's game and darts' global reach extending all the time, conversations about all forms of diversity and inclusion are increasingly relevant for the sport. Ware is grateful to the PDC for giving a voice and a platform to the LGBT+ community too.
Now he's hoping to hear the fans again before the year is out. "Fingers crossed, there's going to be some sort of crowd at the World Darts Championship and things will just get better for the sport throughout 2021." In his own unassuming way, Ware is certainly contributing to that progress.
Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride which supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign. If you'd like to help inspire others in sport by sharing your own story of being LGBT+ or an ally, please contact us here.