Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Rugby’s need for a unified response to racism

Posted on 4 March 2021 by Jeremy Addley

Co-written by Lewis Pangratiou

“We are unified in support of our players, coaches, match officials and fans in taking a positive stand and speaking out against racism in society and sport,” read a statement from World Rugby almost nine months ago.

So far, they have fallen well short of that commitment.

Their silence has been a damning reality check for just how out of touch rugby’s major governing body is. If we really want to address racism in the sport we cannot accept no action. They simply must do better.

Nothing sums up their undeniable lack of responsibility more than their shameful response to Pablo Matera’s resurfaced xenophobic tweets. Aged 18, the now Argentine captain tweeted a series of vile, discriminatory tweets aimed at ethnic minorities in South Africa. It took more than nine years, but finally, he was called out publicly for saying the unthinkable.

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Argentina initially stripped him of the captaincy on the 1st of December but reinstated him just 48 hours later because his teammates threatened to withdraw from the last game of the Tri Nations against Australia. That in itself is bad culture. Argentina brazenly prioritised winning over doing what is right.

“The preventive measures are unnecessary so we have resolved to lift the suspension of the three players [Pablo Matera, Guido Petti, Santiago Socino] and reinstate the captaincy to Pablo Matera,” said the Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR) in a statement attempting to justify their decision.

That is a fanciful way of saying that you do not want to lose your best players. It is spineless and certainly undermines their authority. What is worse is that World Rugby glossed over everything as if nothing happened.

“World Rugby is currently seeking a better understanding of the process being undertaken by the UAR and its status and looks forward to receiving a full update.” This statement came more than two weeks after the incident had come to public attention.

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Now there is a way to pass the buck.

Ugo Monye, a former British and Irish Lion, lambasted World Rugby for their lack of a strong reply:

“There’s been nothing made of it and World Rugby have ignored it hoping it would go away and it has.

“I honestly believe they didn’t know what to do. But I’m pretty sure if there was a black man in that room, I reckon he would’ve known exactly what to do.”

Matera’s position in the game makes this even more alarming. He is not one of the squad’s ‘waterboys’. He is widely considered to be one of Argentina’s greatest ever captains. Somebody in his position should be remembered a leader and a role model, not as a racist.

As for his apology, it was quite frankly pathetic.

“I had a tougher time. I am very ashamed. Apologies to all those who were offended by the atrocities I wrote,” he posted on Instagram.

“At that moment I did not imagine who I was going to become. Today I have to take charge of what I said nine years ago. I’m also sorry to my team and my family for the moment they are going through my actions and thanks to the people who love me for their support.”

People can change, we know that. But a half-hearted ‘sorry if you were offended’ on Instagram is not good enough. Be a man and own up properly.

Monye had his say on Matera’s attempt to make amends: “Pablo [Matera] came out and apologised to [the] people of South Africa.”

“He’s going to play against them at some point. He might even have to tour there at some point soon. I’m sure he’s probably not that welcome right now.

“It’s literally that simple to come out and say the person I was as an 18-year-old isn’t the person I am now, I’m so sorry.”

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Some positive work to combat racism has been carried out, such as the taking of the knee during the Six Nations. The problem is, responses haven’t been unified, they’ve been isolated, and some organisations have simply been better than others.

Monye believes the RFU have been excellent so far, while the Gallagher Premiership have been disappointing despite saying they wanted to make a difference.

“I’m just going to say it: the RFU I think have been brilliant. They have been brilliant and I’m really proud of the work they’ve done.

“Premiership Rugby I think have been poor, really poor. They put together a working group and they’ve given them no funds to do anything. That’s where we’re at six months after publicly coming on telly and saying we’re going to change the world.”

If we’re going to change things in the sport, then the relevant powers have to work together. There has to be a plan, and we need to know that there’s more going on than pay lip service.

Feature image credit: Angelo Failla of Creative Commons