SYDNEY - The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission says the word Pom is not derogatory but can be offensive if used with expletives.
As thousands of England's Barmy Army cricket fans gear up for the start of the second Ashes Test today, a British expatriate group is calling for the word Pom to be banned on the grounds that it is a deeply offensive racist taunt.
The group, British People Against Racial Discrimination, claims that Pom is every bit as insulting as coon, chink, nigger or wog.
It is particularly incensed by a new beer advertisement in which a pasty-faced, overweight British cricket fan recoils in horror when a frothing glass of ice-cold beer is thrust towards him in a pub.
For warm-beer guzzling Englishmen, the new "super cold" Tooheys lager is "a Pom's worst nightmare", the commercial claims.
The group has taken its complaint to the Australian Advertising Standards Board.
"The Oxford Dictionary classes Pom as being derogatory just like wog, wop, dink, dago, coon and Abo. It's every bit as bad as the term nigger," spokesman David Thomason told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.
English-born Australians and British immigrants were being unfairly singled out for abuse, said Thomason, a gas fitter who moved to Australia from Birmingham more than 35 years ago.
The issue has sparked a lively online debate in blogs and chatrooms, with many Australians and English saying they regard Pom as a term of endearment and criticising the group's complaint as an overreaction.
Chanted by Australian crowds at cricket and rugby matches, Pom and its variants - Pommy git and whingeing Pom - encapsulate the 200-year-old love-hate relationship between Britain and its former colony.
Its origins are disputed, with claims that it is an acronym derived from the words stitched onto convict uniforms, Prisoner of Her Majesty.
Another theory suggests that it comes from pomegranate, a reference to the rosy complexions of British convicts when they were first transported in chains to Botany Bay.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission said there the word Pom in itself was not deemed to be derogatory.
It could only be offensive if used with expletives such as "Pommy bastard".
A general ban on using the word in public was highly unlikely.
"On its own the word Pom doesn't incite hatred or violence compared to other words used to describe racial groups, like boong or nigger for Aborigines," said spokesman Paul Oliver.
"This British group is saying that words like Kiwi and Yank are also derogatory and insulting to New Zealanders and Americans.
"But there's really no comparison with a word like nigger. We've tried to explain that to them."