“You cannot ask someone to love you if you don’t love yourself.”

Craig Maxwell-Keys has spoken about his sexuality for the first time.

In a conversation with Rugby Media, the British rugby referee praised Rainbow Laces, a campaign that aims to raise money for LGBTQ charity Stonewall and to encourage people to share their support for equality in sport.

He said the coming out stories of Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens and Sam Stanley, the first English rugby union player to come out as gay, were a “source of support” and “comfort” for him at a time when he was unable to live authentically.

“And that message resonated with me massively. I thought I was ready to come out probably two years into my pharmaceutical job and then literally as I was preparing the job offer came up here,” he explained.

“I realised that I hadn’t fully accepted it myself and that you cannot ask someone to love you if you don’t love yourself.”

Two years later, Craig came out to friends and family before he headed to Manchester for the under 20s World Championship. He later came out to the rest of his co-workers at 6am over WhatsApp as he boarded a flight to Greece.

“I turned the phone off for about eight hours,” he continued. “After a few two many wines in Greece, I turned it back on and the reaction was very positive to say the least. I certainly forgot personally how much effort it was to keep up that false pretence.”

Craig said he spent a lot of time and energy creating fake stories about “imaginary girlfriends” but as soon as he came out, a “weight was lifted” and he felt like he could live as his authentic self and enjoy life again.

When asked about support from his teammates, Craig revealed: “It’s been really positive. It’s either not an issue or they’re overly supportive, take an interest, want to ask how they can help or support you in whatever way.”

Craig left the interview on the following powerful statement: “Rugby is a sport for everyone irrespective of who you love, gender, religion. All it really cares about is you enjoying yourself and expressing yourself through the medium of rugby.

“I don’t think we can be complacent, things have moved on massively but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made better.”

Watch Craig Maxwell-Keys’ coming out interview below.