LEADING Australian gay rugby union and anti-sports homophobia advocate Andrew Purchas has said Sunday’s incident involving ACT Brumbies player David Pocock and his homophobic slurs allegations against a NSW Waratahs player further highlights the need to address homophobia in in the code.

The comments come after Pocock grabbed headlines when, during Sunday’s match at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium, he took his concerns to referee Craig Joubert and 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.

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.”

The Brumbies have officially reported two incidents of homophobic language to South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby (SANZAR), saying that the abuse was directed towards two Brumbies players.

However, according to reports by News Corp, Brumbies chief executive Michael Jones has said they were now leaving the matter with SANZAR, and should no evidence emerge that a Waratahs player directed an anti-gay slur at a Brumbies player, they would cancel the complaint.

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 — said the allegations were upsetting but stressed the positive work that Australian Rugby Union had been doing to address homophobic abuse in the sport.

“Assuming the accusations are accurate, it’s very disappointing and it indicates that there’s still a problem out there,” Purchas told the Star Observer.

“However, having said that rugby in general has been extremely supportive of creating an inclusive sporting environment, and that support has come from so many organisations within Australia.

“In general our impression of how seriously rugby sees this issue and the length they’re taking to change are significant, and if [the allegations are] true, I would imagine it is not something that is endemic or representative of the Waratahs more broadly, but rather just the actions of an individual.”

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

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

“I certainly haven’t heard much in the last few years. I guess in the last year or two Australian rugby has started to address, and rightly so from (Australian Rugby Union chief executive) Bill Pulver right down, that there’s no room for homophobic language in our sport and we want to make it inclusive.

“Where you start is quelling out that sort of language. I didn’t hear it myself, I was just making the referee aware of it so he could act.”

Pocock said he did not want the incident and investigation to become a “witch hunt”, but instead another way for homophobic slurs to be addressed.

“Our job as players is to quell it out… It’s about educating the players and ensuring that rugby does become more inclusive,” he said.

At a press conference this morning, Waratahs fullback Israel Folau denied there were any players in his team that held homophobic views.

“Certainly not. I don’t see that anywhere within our team and also in rugby in general,” Folau said.

According to Purchas, the alleged 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.

“Almost without exception they have been fantastic, as have the Melbourne Rebels with the Melbourne Chargers, and the Queensland Reds with the Brisbane Hustlers. It’s clear that the Australian Rugby Union take this issue very seriously.”

Purchas said it would be realistic to expect incidents like this to still occur within rugby union as the sport continues to improve. However, he highlighted that the focus should still remain on the work that the majority of players and rugby union groups are doing to address homophobia.

“At the risk of sounding like a cliché, this is a bit journey for rugby in Australia, and to expect that everything would change at the stroke of a pen is a bit unrealistic,” he said.

“The player groups come from broad and varied backgrounds and unfortunately some of them may still hold some views that are somewhat outdated.

“What is important is that there are programs and processes in place to point out the danger and the damage that these comments cause.”

News of Sunday’s incident has featured prominently in mainstream media coverage, a sign of which Purchas believes shows that multiple sectors within Australian society are taking homophobia in sport seriously.

“I’m hoping that it’s with good intent that the media actually think that this is a problem worth drawing attention to and not just for the sake of a headline.

“It does give me heart that the media and the sport itself are taking this issue very seriously.”

Support and praise for Pocock’s actions have appeared over Twitter, with many praising the former Wallabies captain for his unrelenting fight against homophobia and willingness to stand up for what he believes in.

(Image source: ABC News)

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