Maro Itoje says rugby union must do more to fight racism

Itoje is a key figure for the club and the country

Rugby union can do more to combat racism and increase diversity in the sport, said British and Irish Lions and England striker Maro Itoje.

The Saracens Lock discussed the race issues in the game with his former manager Floyd Steadman, a former scrum-half for the Itoje club who was the first black captain at the highest level of English rugby union.

After his playing career, Steadman became principal of Salcombe Prep School in north London, where he introduced a young Itoje to the sport.

“Rugby needs to expand its network to include more people and attract more talent,” Itoje told Radio 5 Live.

“The Rugby Football Union does a lot. Can they do more? Maybe. Premiership rugby does some things. Can they do more? Certainly. Premiership clubs probably aren’t doing as much as they should. Can they do more? 100%.

“The more we are all invested in this project, the greater the result will be.

“He has to do more to attract young rugby players from different backgrounds, backgrounds and socio-economic groups and if he does, everyone wins.

“There will be a better game and a better product and it will lead to more fans, more people signing up and more demand for broadcasters in terms of television and for the guys who put money into it.

“Everyone wins when the game is more diverse. “

Earlier this year, the RFU launched an independent advisory group on diversity and inclusion that will “plan” and “challenge the RFU to its progress” in the field.

The group is chaired by former England winger Ugo Monye, ​​with former England World Cup winner and current Wasps Ladies rugby manager Giselle Mather the vice-chairman.

The RFU said the “priority areas for action” were currently “ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and age”.

Steadman said he was proud of what players like Itoje were doing to raise issues of racism and diversity.

“Part of what I had to deal with during my playing years was racist abuse, but it was largely unconscious prejudice on the part of fans, opponents and teammates,” he recalls. .

“It was also largely a language that people thought was appropriate at the time, but I knew it wasn’t.

“People were making assumptions based on the color of my skin and I challenged them to look at me again, man.”

Maro Itoje in action for England
Itoje won three Six Nations Championships with England

Itoje is recognized for his strong stance against racism and earlier this year he became a patron of The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise which aims to fill the gaps in the current UK school curriculum by teaching black British history all year round. .

“We are all on this journey together,” he said. “Black, brown, white, blue, pink and I believe the more we converse with each other the more we understand and educate each other about different opinions, lifestyles and ways of seeing people. , the closer we get to a more equitable society. “

While Itoje still takes the knee before matches, he has denied feeling disappointed when not joined by all of his English teammates.

“One thing that is clear from all English players is that they are against racism, they are against discrimination and they are against any form of racial abuse,” he said.

“Each player has to judge whether he feels comfortable doing it and the players will have their own reasons.

“I’m not going to say that if you don’t take the knee it means you’re racist, it’s too simplistic.

“But while I think symbolic gestures are important, the most important thing is getting the job done when you’re in the public eye but also in your private life.”

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