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Rugby fans banned for verbal abuse of gay referee

Nigel Owens applauds the action that also includes a fine and says he would be willing to meet the fans.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Two rugby fans were banned from the home field of England's national rugby team for two years after they yelled homophobic slurs at openly gay referee Nigel Owens at a match in November.

"I'd tell them to think twice about saying things," Owens told BBC Radio 5 live. "They go to the stadiums, get drunk and think its fine to shout abuse."

The fans were also ordered to each pay about $1,500 to a charity of Owens' choice. The incident was brought to light by a straight rugby fan in a letter to the Guardian newspaper following the England-New Zealand match. Owens said he would be willing to meet with the fans to hear exactly what they said and why they said it.

"It's not me they're hurting, it's the young kid sitting in the row in front who's maybe dealing with their own sexuality," he told the BBC. "The most difficult thing I ever had to do in my life was accepting I was gay. It's someone sitting two seats away, going through what I went through, dealing with who they are, who are the people they're putting in danger.

"I've been there myself and I know they can tip you over the edge, I had a second chance, let's make sure that we don't put other people in that situation - because there's no need for it in society and no need for it in life."

Good on English rugby for taking a zero-tolerance stance and sending a message that homophobia won't be tolerated.

Hat tips to readers Matt and Johan-Markus for alerting us to the news.