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In a shocking development, Gold Coast Suns defender Wil Powell has been suspended for five games after the AFL Integrity Unit found him guilty of using a homophobic slur against a Brisbane Lions opponent during Sunday’s game. Powell admitted to the Suns that he made the comment, and a subsequent investigation confirmed his actions.

This suspension comes just weeks after Port Adelaide’s Jeremy Finlayson received a three-game ban for a similar offense. North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson was also fined $20,000 in the pre-season for making a homophobic remark directed at St Kilda players Jimmy Webster and Dougal Howard.

The AFL Integrity Unit stated that the increased penalty for Powell reflected their “deep concern about this repeat in close proximity to the last occurrence and in order to further deter such conduct in the future.”

Gold Coast Suns chief executive Mark Evans expressed his unease with the length of Powell’s suspension but understood the need for firm punishment.

“It’s been hard to work through the level of sanction, given previous instances,” Evans said. “We respect that the AFL has got a job to do to continue the education and the leadership on the issue. But that did cause us some trouble, the level of sanction.”

The AFL had made it clear after the Finlayson incident that future violations would result in harsher consequences. AFL general counsel Stephen Meade voiced his disappointment about dealing with a similar incident so soon.

“It is extremely disappointing to be dealing with a similar incident in only a matter of weeks,” Meade said. “There could be no clearer message—homophobia has no place in our game, nor in society. We want all people in the community to feel welcomed in our game, and comments such as Powell’s only take away from this.”

Powell has since issued a public apology and contacted the Lions player involved directly. In a video released by the Suns on their social channels, he expressed his regret for his actions.

“On Sunday night there was a heated confrontation between myself and a Brisbane Lions player, where I slipped a homophobic word on accident,” Powell said. “I’ve apologised to the Brisbane Lions player multiple times during the night and after the game via text.”

“I’m extremely sorry for what I’ve said. It won’t ever happen again.”

Powell accepted the punishment handed down by the AFL and vowed to make amends.

AFLPA chief executive Paul Marsh condemned Powell’s actions and called for a formalized sanction policy.

“Wil’s words are hurtful, offensive, and don’t belong on or off the football field,” Marsh said. “Given the AFL’s recent public position, we are not surprised by the size of this sanction, but we continue to believe the industry needs a formalized and consistent sanctioning framework.”

Powell will now miss five games, and the Suns hope this serves as a reminder that discrimination of any kind has no place in the AFL or society.