GARETH Thomas knows exactly how Worcester Warriors players felt when their contracts were dissolved.
The Welsh rugby legend was the captain of the Celtic Warriors franchise that was liquidated in 2004 after a single season.
Thomas, now the face of the Tackle HIV awareness campaign, has been through plenty of adversity in life but will never forget when his contract was effectively torn up.
“It was horrific, absolutely horrific,” said Thomas, speaking during The Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour which offers educational information on HIV as well as encouraging and offering testing advice, information and test kits to the public.
“Every player became desperate to get picked up mid-season and we were being offered to other regions at rock bottom prices, like cattle at a market.
“It’s easy to perceive as a fan that it’s just a job, they get paid a lot, but it’s a real passion. Rugby is more of a lifestyle choice than a career.
“I have real empathy and understanding of what everyone at Worcester has gone through.”
Thomas spoke out just days before Wasps became the second Gallagher Premiership club to go under as debts and unpaid tax bill saw the Coventry-based side go into administration.
Thomas is calling for immediate change in rugby governance to avoid a repeat performance.
He said: “I just feel that there needs to be some kind of proaction to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
“The governing bodies need to do more than just react and allow these clubs to disappear and hope it doesn’t happen again.
“Every penny needs to be transparent, where it goes, what they do with, it needs to be transparent so players aren’t the victim of somebody else’s poor management.
“There is a way of preventing it and if you have clarity, you can pinpoint the problem before it becomes a real issue.”
Thomas is now focused on tackling a different kind of stigma – the persistent myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV.
He is now leading a Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour, visiting several cities to continue the educational campaign with a visual and inspirational rally point.
The provision for testing as part of the Myth Bus Tour is particularly crucial, with Thomas drawing attention to a 2022 Tackle HIV public survey which revealed only 45 per cent of people would consider taking an HIV test.
He said: “It’s about making the uncomfortable comfortable with people. In certain areas and certain environments this conversation isn’t being had.
“If we went to Soho or to a Pride event, there would be more of an acknowledgement of why we should be there and more education.
“But if you look at the facts, in 2020 there were more new HIV cases among heterosexual people than gay and bisexual men.
“We want to push this message out in uncomfortable places, and then the conversation becomes more comfortable.”
Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. Visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv