Rugby: Former Australian league player John Hopoate banned for 10 years

SYDNEY (AFP) - Former Australian rugby league international John Hopoate has been banned from the sport for 10 years over a fight in a minor grade match that he claims was sparked by racist taunts.

The 44-year-old, the most suspended player ever during his turbulent National Rugby League career, will not be able to play, coach or act in any other league-related capacity.

Five years of the punishment was suspended, meaning from July 2023 he can apply for special clearance to became involved in the sport again.

It came after Hopoate threw a punch and making violent threats towards a Forestville Ferrets player during their clash with the Narraweena Hawks last month.

During the New South Wales Rugby League hearing on Wednesday (Aug 15) evening, Hopoate claimed he had been called a "black monkey" on the field, Fox Sports reported.

But panel chairman John Walford said if racial taunts happened he should have reported them to match officials, which he failed to do. Walford also took into account Hopoate's past indiscretions.

"Every governing body has an obligation to the participants who play our game to ensure they can play in a safe and enjoyable environment," said NSW Rugby League chief David Trodden in a statement.

"Incidents like these, which challenge that safe and enjoyable environment and damage the reputation of our sport, have no place in our game and must be dealt with appropriately to protect our game."

Tongan-born Hopoate played twice for Australia and also appeared for New South Wales in State of Origin matches, before a 17-match suspension over a shoulder charge in 2005 effectively ended his NRL career.

He later became a professional boxer and became Australian heavyweight champion in 2008.