UK Politics

Soapbox: Rugby star Ben Cohen on bullying and homophobia

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Media captionRugby star Ben Cohen's foundation has been running in the US and is to be launched in Britain

Former England rugby international Ben Cohen tells the BBC's Daily Politics why he is campaigning against bullying and homophobia.

Each year stories of bullying and the long term damaging effects that it causes are reported in our media.

Young people's lives are tragically ruined, and with cyber-bullying becoming more and more widespread, bullying is now far more difficult to escape from.

So I created The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, the world's first foundation dedicated to raising awareness of the effects of bullying, and funding those doing real-world work to stop it.

I understand how tragedy can tear a family apart.

Eleven years ago, my father Pete was attacked outside a nightclub that my family owned. Dad died from his injuries a month later.

When I started to receive letters from gay fans, sharing their stories of bullying and homophobia, I was shocked and wanted to use my popularity and privileged position to raise awareness about how homophobia and bullying wrecks lives.

We are looking to affect the next generation. We want to create cultural change and we are doing that by using our StandUp brand to communicate that it is not cool to bully, but it is cool to stand up.

We want to engage the masses, those who stand by whilst others are suffering.

I am working a lot with young sportsmen and women in schools and colleges to encourage them to start the ball rolling in their own environment.

I am asking them to look out for those who are suffering and simply stand up next to them when they need it the most.

As parents, teachers or simply adults, we are not necessarily there when the bullying takes place, but the youngsters are.

By bringing an awareness generally we feel that we can create a movement where the young people themselves no longer tolerate the bullying in their schools and communities.

It's about gracefully standing up alongside someone who may not be strong enough to stand up for themselves at that particular moment in time.

The foundation was launched in May 2011 in the US. The UK Charity arm of StandUp is currently being prepared to be launched early in 2012.

Image caption Ben's father Peter died after stepping in to break up a fight involving bullies

The foundation works with its network of partners on both side of the Atlantic to instigate change and awareness in schools, colleges and universities.

It does not want to compete with other organisations who are already working at ground level with young people, but wants to support them through offering the opportunity to apply to StandUp for grants to assist specific anti-bullying projects.

In the UK, I'm supporting the Home Office Charter against Homophobia and Transphobia in Sport and am joining forces to bring about change in attitudes as to how homophobia in sport is dealt with.

The time is right to kick the last phobia out of sport so that people can feel comfortable to come out as gay or lesbian and still reach their full potential as athletes.

* Ben appeared on Wednesday's Daily Politics debating the ideas in his film with Chris Grayling MP.

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