Maro Itoje warns of ‘appalling’ racism after England's abuse in Bulgaria

Maro Itoje warns that rugby union ‘shouldn’t consider itself immune’ from racism following the abuse aimed at England’s footballers during Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria.

The Saracens and England forward, who has been named in the team to face Australia in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final, has expressed his disgust with the racist comments made and believes more black sportspeople should make a public stand.

“It’s just appalling, it’s abysmal,” Itoje told reporters. “You would think they wouldn’t have to go through that. It sends a poor message about the game of football.

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“It’s a shame because it’s such a beautiful game and it’s being tarred by people with racist thoughts and racist minds. It’s terrible that players have to experience that when they just want to go out and play the game they love.”

The 24-year-old is urging rugby union to do more to kick racism and other discrimination out of the game.

England's Maro Itoje has warned rugby union shares a wider racism problem. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
His comments came after the disgraceful scenes witnessed by England's football team in Bulgaria. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP)

“It’s important never to just assume that this is a free zone from any form of discrimination,” says Itoje who is of Nigerian heritage. “I think rugby is probably, from the sports I’ve seen, right up there in terms of integrity, respect and how they treat people. But I think it is important to never just assume that it’s always going to be that way.”

The lock forward praised Tyrone Mings’ handling of the situation during the qualifier in Sofia. The 26-year-old defender made his England debut against Bulgaria and was one of the players subject to the racist abuse.

“I’m all for player empowerment,” Itoje goes on to say. “I’m all for players speaking up when they feel there are injustices done to them. It is important for players who are subject to this kind of abuse and discrimination that they speak up and highlight the wrongs and the issues.”

As a football fan, Itoje points to Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli as prominent English players in the Premier League who are frequently subjected to racist comments.

“It is important never just to assume that these things are all hunky dory,” Itoje says. “It is something we have to keep on top of.”

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