AUSTRALIAN Rugby Union has fined NSW Waratahs player Jacques Potgieter $20,000, with $10,000 suspended, after an incident during Sunday’s match against the ACT Brumbies at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

According to a statement released by the ARU, the back rower admitted making comments that was in breach of the code’s Inclusion Policy.

Potgieter, in his second year for the Waratahs, will also undergo additional educational and awareness training.

The suspension attached to his penalty means that while he will only pay $10,000 for this incident, if he is the centre of a similar incident in the future he will be fined $10,000 again.

The disciplinary action was determined after an investigation by ARU’s Integrity Unit when the matter was referred to them by South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby (SANZAR) this afternoon.

According to the ARU, Potgieter was fined because he was in breach of the sport’s Code of Conduct, which prohibits homophobic or racist comments.

The ARU, Waratahs, the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) and Potgieter all accepted the disciplinary action and determined that the matter would not be heard by a tribunal.

The penalty came about after the Brumbies officially reported two incidents of homophobic language to SANZAR, saying that the abuse was directed towards two Brumbies players.

The Brumbie’s reports were a result of team member David Pocock taking his concerns to referee Craig Joubert during the match, in which he alleged that a Waratah forward had used the term “faggot” to sledge opposing players in the second half of the game.

“You heard that sir… you can’t say that, there could be gay players out there,” Pocock said in the recorded conversation with Joubert, which was telecast live on TV and soon grabbed headlines.

The conversation continued, with Pocock at one stage saying: “That’s fine, but after that their captain said: ‘That’s rugby.’ That’s not right, we can’t tolerate that.”

A vocal LGBTI ally and marriage equality campaigner, Pocock told Fairfax Media he was disappointed that despite recent efforts to address homophobia in rugby union, players were still using anti-gay language and abuse.

However, he stressed that he did not want investigation to become a “witch hunt”, but instead another way for homophobic slurs to be addressed.

“As players, we’ve said the Brumbies aren’t going to tolerate any homophobic slurs, I just made that clear to the referee that it’s unacceptable,” Pocock said.

“You can be the toughest man in the world, but it’s got nothing to do with using that sort of language.”

Potgieter has expressed remorse over the incident, and apologised for any harm caused by his remarks.

“I’m very sorry for any offence caused by what I said on the field during a heated encounter,” Potgieter said in a statement circulated by the NSW Waratahs.

“It was an offhand remark made without thought for the hurt it could cause to those around me.”

Waratahs chief executive Greg Harris said the incident was unfortunate, especially considering the efforts of rugby union to be inclusive.

“Jacques made an error in judgement, despite having completed the ARU’s Integrity Training, which includes the Member Protection Policy around Inclusion and Racism,” Harris said.

“There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and we have endeavoured as a club to embody these values on and off the field.”

ARU chief executive Bill Pulver has reiterated that homophobic slurs would not be tolerated.

“We take the issue of homophobia in sport seriously and want to provide a positive environment for everyone involved in rugby,” he said.

“Our Inclusion Policy reinforces Australian Rugby’s commitment to ensure every individual, whether they’re players, supporters, coaches or administrators, feel safe, welcome and included regardless of race, gender or sexuality.

“I’d like to stress again that there is absolutely no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words on and off the field must reflect that.”

Earlier today, Andrew Purchas — who was the president of gay rugby union world tournament Bingham Cup 2014 in Sydney, an event which also galvanised Australia’s major sporting codes to sign on to the Anti-Homophobia and Inclusion Framework — told the Star Observer that the incident was upsetting but stressed the positive work that ARU had been doing to address homophobic abuse in the sport.

He also said the behaviour of one individual should not be an indictment on the Waratahs — a team he has worked closely with to stamp out homophobia and promote LGBTI inclusiveness.

“I met with the Waratahs’ CEO on numerous occasions and he expressed his support for us and Bingham, he assisted in the Sydney Convicts playing a curtain raiser at Allianz Stadium, we’ve had numerous Waratahs assist with promotional activities, Mardi Gras messages, and they have dealt with homophobic comments on social media as well,” Purchas said.

The ARU endorsed its Inclusion Policy in August last year, and it is designed to stamp out all forms of discrimination and homophobia in rugby union.

(Main image source: Matt King/Getty Images AsiaPac)

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