Ugo Monye says rugby union must tackle its “heavy drinking” and “laddish” culture to become fully inclusive.
The former England wing says some of the sport’s traditions do not “mirror the present day” or our “society”.
“Rugby, just by the dynamic of the game, really and truly is a game for all shapes and sizes from the physical aspect,” Monye, 39, told the Telegraph.
“Beyond that, it should also reflect every single attitude. It should be the best reflection of society.”
Monye is the chair of the Rugby Football Union’s independent advisory group on diversity, at a time when participation at grassroots levels continues to fall.
He added: “There has always been a heavy drinking culture within rugby. I invested heavily into that as well during my playing days, and I enjoyed it.
“But if I was in Birmingham, in a densely populated Muslim community, and my teenage kids wanted to play rugby, as a parent, my perception of rugby would be: ‘All they do is drink after every match – I don’t want my children to be a part of that.’
“Rugby can’t be afraid of what it is, but I do think it also needs to mirror the present day and where we are in society.”
Monye won 14 England caps and played in two British and Irish Lions Tests against South Africa in 2009, as well as winning the Premiership title with Harlequins in 2012.
He says there was a “fairly laddish” changing room during his time at Twickenham Stoop – something he admits could have prevented some of his team-mates from being able to express themselves fully.
Monye’s former Quins team-mate Simon Miall only came out publicly as gay after he had retired in 2007 after five seasons with the club.
Monye said: “When Simon came out when he retired, automatically you think, ‘oh gosh, what kind of environment did we foster at Harlequins for him to maybe not be comfortable enough? Where did the pressure come from for him not to be his full self at work where he spent a lot of time with us – away trips, tours, pre-seasons?’
“I think we had what I’d call a fairly laddish changing room. I ashamedly say it not because I think we purposely went out to hurt people or upset people or anything like that. But when the consequence of that is someone potentially not wanting to reveal the core of themselves within that setting, you start to understand.”