Ali Donnelly explains why she feels let down by how rugby has been dealing with homophobic abuse

Rugby must clamp down on homophobic abuse

Back in January Mathieu Bastareaud was heard directing the word “f****t” towards Sebastian Negri in a European Champions Cup game and was subsequently banned for three weeks.

Israel Folau has also caused huge controversy with a social media post that said God’s plan for gay people was “HELL… unless they repent of their sins and turn to God”. He has met with Rugby Australia officials to discuss how he can better express his views respectfully given their inclusion policy, although he has not been sanctioned by the union.

Last week Sale wing Denny Solomona was banned for four weeks for conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game after being found guilty of directing the words “f***ing f****t” towards Worcester’s Jamie Shillcock during an Aviva Premiership game.

Rugby must clamp down on homophobic abuse

Controversy: Sale wing Denny Solomona is wrapped up by Worcester tacklers (Getty Images)

All of the above make this ‘Rugby Rant‘ column from Ali Donnelly, who writes regularly for Rugby World magazine and is editor of, more pertinent. Here is her reaction to Bastareaud’s ban at the start of the year…

Mathieu Bastareaud’s three-week ban for homophobic abuse towards Sebastian Negri in Toulon’s game against Treviso has generated a lively debate.

The statement announcing the ban was issued by European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) on the same afternoon that James Haskell received a four-week suspension for his poor tackle on Jamie Roberts.

Naturally, comparisons were made about the leniency of one compared to the other, but Bastareaud’s disgusting language should be taken in isolation.

Our game trades itself on its core values; differentiates itself on the respect there is between its players, coaches and fans; and celebrates its much-hyped inclusivity as well as the work that it is doing to improve diversity.

So when handed footage of a player using a homophobic slur towards another player, why did it baulk at the opportunity to really live up to the values it so acclaims?

A three-week ban for a vile insult is itself an insult to the game’s LGBTQ players, fans and officials.

The committee who heard the hearing conceded that the abuse warranted a red card but that the offence was “at the low end” of sanctions and six weeks was selected as the appropriate entry point. The committee also took into account the player’s guilty plea and reduced the sanction by 50%.

There are two points to unpick here. First, that this instance of homophobic abuse is considered at the low end of sanctions. What sort of insult would it take to climb up the charts and reach the dizzying height of a top-end sanction? I shudder to think.

The second is that the committee took the player’s guilty plea into consideration when deciding to halve the ban. Given that the entire exchange was captured on television, with the language picked up on the referee’s microphone, and beamed around the world, you can probably make your own mind up as to what I think about Bastareaud’s guilty plea making a difference to the outcome.

Words matter. Actions matter. Our game is very good at the former and is sadly proving to be miles behind on the latter.

As an LGBTQ coach and former player, I feel let down by my sport, which asks me to play and coach by its values and expects me to uphold them on and off the field. I do – but how about the game’s governing bodies?

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Rugby World. Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.