MARO Itoje has called for matches to be played in empty stadiums in the fight against racism.
Itoje, born in London to Nigerian parents, was sickened by the abuse hurled at England footballers Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose in Montenegro recently.
And the powerful Saracans and England lock forward said: “Clubs whose fans give racial abuse, they should have fans banned from the stadium. If the fans are not going to support in the right way, or in the right manner, they shouldn’t even be in the ground to support any team. We should have empty stadiums.
“That is not going to be nice for everyone to see, but I believe that racial abuse shouldn’t be tolerated and we shouldn’t make excuses for them.
“Even though it is a minority, if the minority want to spoil it for everyone then that is their choice, they shouldn’t be allowed in the vicinity.”
Itoje said he was appalled by the treatment of Sterling and Rose during the Euro 2020 qualifier. “For them to have to experience that doing something that they love – when they didn’t cause any harm to anyone, didn’t aggravate anyone – to be abused purely because of the colour of your skin, it’s absolutely shocking.
“It’s horrible, and they’ve all handled themselves in a very dignified, elegant way. They are a credit to themselves, and they’re a credit to the whole of the black community. All of us in different sports are extremely proud of them.” Itoje said he had no direct experience of racism in Rugby Union, but he knew players who had.
“I have seen other people experience it. Obviously that kind of behaviour shouldn’t be tolerated at all. People are so passionate about football that, especially when their team isn’t doing well, it brings out maybe their innate tribal beliefs.
“I would not doubt that a lot of those people have racist views. So, when a black person is doing well against their team, the racist abuse comes out.
“Football has highlighted that issue. I don’t think it is just related to football, you can probably see that in other walks of life. There are a lot of other forms of discrimination that apply to those who are the minority.”
He added: “At the end of the day coaches want to win, so they pick players who want to win. However, (while) that can happen, we’ve also seen other examples where that hasn’t happened: the obvious example of where race was playing a part in selection was in South Africa during apartheid.”
NICK CAIN / Photo: Getty Images
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