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Campaigner says racism is 'occurring at every level' of rugby union

Published 17/03/2016

Twickenham is the home of English rugby and the Rugby Football Union
Twickenham is the home of English rugby and the Rugby Football Union

The founder of a campaign group aimed at tackling racism in rugby believes a culture of complacency is hindering efforts to confront what he says is a growing issue in the sport.

England prop Joe Marler has avoided sanction for calling opponent Samson Lee "gypsy boy" during Saturday's Six Nations clash at Twickenham - a comment Lee later accepted as "banter".

Former amateur player Gavin Connor set up the Kick Racism Out of Rugby group to raise awareness in 2012 after being subjected to a number of incidents of racist abuse.

Connor says he was "amazed" by the level of response from players reporting similar incidents, but faced criticism from others who denied racism was an issue at any level of the game.

And Connor says he believes the sport's authorities led by the Rugby Football Union must pursue more rigid educational and awareness programmes in order to minimise the risk of future incidents.

Connor told Press Association Sport: "Many people see rugby as this very middle-class pursuit and therefore they just don't believe incidents of racism can happen.

"But they do - I've experienced it myself and I've heard stories of it occurring at every level of the game. I know lots of players who haven't come forward because there is a kind of stigma attached.

"I think there needs to be much more education and we need to talk about the things we can put in place to stop this. I feel to some extent there has been an element of pushing it under the carpet."

Connor said he was racially abused when playing for Slough in September 2012, but his case was thrown out by a Buckinghamshire Rugby Union disciplinary panel due to a lack of evidence. Further evidence was later provided and a Milton Keynes RUFC player was banned for 12 weeks.

Connor set up his campaign group on Facebook and said he received over 1,500 membership requests within the first week. He added: "I think it is a problem in every sport.

"Obviously there are differing degrees of the issue but I don't think rugby can assume it will ever completely go away until the top people sit down and discuss ways to educate and stop this happening."

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