Duncan Bech, PA England Rugby Correspondent
Benetton have been ordered by the United Rugby Championship (URC) to take action against anyone involved in the racial abuse of Cherif Traore.
Italy prop Traore revealed on social media that he was given a rotten banana in the club’s Secret Santa and that his team-mates reacted to the present by laughing, making him feel “hurt”.
Benetton have been condemned for their weak response to the incident with Ellis Genge, Luther Burrell and Paolo Odogwu among those voicing outrage.
United Rugby Championship statement on Benetton Rugby.
Read here 👇#BKTURC #URC
— BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) December 22, 2022
An initial Benetton statement made no mention of an investigation or possible punishment and while the squad have since apologised to Traore, it is the Guinea-born 28-year-old who has publicly fronted the club’s attempt to draw a line under the controversy.
The URC has now demanded that Benetton launch a full inquiry in the expectation of sanctioning those responsible.
“The URC has been in communication with Benetton regarding the incident first identified in a social media post of Cherif Traore the Italian international prop forward,” a statement read.
“Benetton have been asked to provide a full report on what has occurred and what meaningful action will be taken as a result.
Nobody should be accepting this abhorrent behaviour, ! It really saddens me, I can only imagine he feels ostracised, for his teammates to behave like this, for them to snigger while he opens a wrapped banana as a gift is cruel, it’s inhumane.. now it’s damage control for them 😤 https://t.co/yigJEr4PRh
— Luther Burrell (@lutherburrell) December 22, 2022
“Racism and discrimination of any kind are abhorrent, completely unacceptable in society and are utterly counter to the values of the sport of rugby and the URC.”
URC’s intervention comes after England prop Genge insisted there must be repercussions for the racial discrimination of a player who has won 16 caps for Italy, including two appearances in this year’s Six Nations.
“No well done, absolutely right, 'gifting' a 'teammate' a rotten banana for secret Santa is not a big deal and a simple apology will suffice!” Genge said on Twitter.
“If there is no further action on this from Benetton then everything we’ve done for 'rugby against racism' has been a tick box for most.”
No well done, absolutely right, “gifting” a “team mate” a rotten banana for secret Santa is not a big deal and a simple apology will suffice!
If there is no further action on this from Benetton then everything we’ve done for “rugby against racism” has been a tick box for most. https://t.co/FlMkzzF3U6
— Gengey (@EllisGenge) December 22, 2022
Burrell, whose former club Newcastle have been investigated following revelations about the racial abuse the England centre faced, described the treatment of Traore as “inhumane”.
“Nobody should be accepting this abhorrent behaviour!” Burrell said on Twitter.
“It really saddens me, I can only imagine he feels ostracised, for his teammates to behave like this, for them to snigger while he opens a wrapped banana as a gift is cruel, it’s inhumane.. now it’s damage control for them.”
Stade Francais’ former Wasps centre Paolo Odogwu questioned why Traore was asked to explain the fallout from the incident on a video on social media.
Crazyy lack of accountability here, doesn’t feel much like “family” 🙃 making the person whose already suffered do the PR
— Paolo Odogwu (@notoriousPCO) December 22, 2022
“Crazy lack of accountability here, doesn’t feel much like 'family' making the person whose already suffered do the PR,” Odogwu said on Twitter.
All Benetton players were summoned to the United Rugby Championship club’s training ground on Wednesday afternoon where they apologised to Traore and were addressed by president Amerino Zatta.
“The meeting was an opportunity to discuss and understand how what one of my team-mates did when exchanging Christmas presents is purely the result of idiocy and nothing other,” Traore said.
“I appreciate and accept his apology and that of the entire team. I’m happy with the gesture and I’m sure what happened will make the group even more solid.
“We are a family and as such we will continue to commit ourselves on and off the pitch, fighting, as we always have, against all forms of discrimination.”
Traore, who emigrated to Italy from west Africa as a seven-year-old, brought the abuse to light in a post on Instagram that was temporarily taken down.
“Yesterday, when it was my turn, I found a banana inside my present. A rotten banana inside a bag of moisture,” he said.
“Apart from calling the gesture offensive, what hurt me most was seeing most of my mates present laughing. As if everything is normal.
“I’m used to it. Or rather, I’ve had to get used to it, putting on a brave face whenever I hear racist jokes in order to try not to hate the people close to me. Yesterday was different though.
“Thankfully some comrades, especially foreigners, tried to support me. Outside Italy a gesture like this is severely condemned even in small instances and this time I want to say my piece.”