FORMER Northampton Saints rugby player Ben Cohen has brought his career to a premature end in order to focus on an organisation he set up which aims to combat bullying and homophobia.
The Northampton-born 32-year-old, who won the rugby World Cup with England in 2003, has been released by Sale Sharks but has turned down the chance to prolong his playing career and will instead devote his energies to setting up The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation.
Mr Cohen, who played for the Saints from 1996-2007 and scored 31 tries in 57 tests for England, said he had offers from rival Aviva Premiership clubs, as well as the option of playing in France for another two years, but he felt the time was right for a new challenge.
He said: “To be honest, I would never have imagined my career was going to move in this direction after my professional rugby career, but here we are, it’s happening.
“It is incredibly exciting and we have so many plans in the pipeline to be able to make a difference. In my view, rugby is a very inclusive sport.
“Everyone can get involved in one way or another, so I will be using it as a vehicle to drive my message of acceptance out to people from all walks of life, everywhere.”
Mr Cohen is due to travel to the USA for his Acceptance Tour from May 19-29, during which he will visit gay-friendly rugby clubs in Atlanta, New York, Washington DC and Seattle.
He said: “There is a lot of work to be done. Attitudes need to change. Young people should not be bullied into taking their own lives. That is what is happening and it needs to stop.
“I’ve reached the top in my sport. It has been an incredible journey and has put me in the privileged position I’m in today to be able to work on these exciting new projects through the ‘Stand Up’ Brand.
“As athletes, it’s not enough just to have strong bodies. We must have strong characters and use our voices to support those who need and deserve it.”