(Reuters) – Former England centre Luther Burrell said he hopes that by speaking out about racism in rugby he will inspire younger players to follow suit.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, the 32-year-old – who won 15 caps and played for Leeds, Sale, Northampton Saints and Newcastle – said racism was rife in the sport.
“It’s not banter,” he told Sky Sports on Monday. “Let’s have a craic about how poor I played at the weekend. Or something about my hair. But when you are chucking slavery into a banter comment it’s a bit farfetched.
“I look back and I’m disappointed I didn’t feel the courage or strength to speak about it. I’m talking about it now as I hope 15-year-old or 17-year-old Luthers are sitting in the changing room feeling they can be confident to say something.
“But more importantly let’s try and eradicate it so these young players wouldn’t have to say anything.”
Burrell added that he has plans to meet with the Rugby Football Union and discuss measures that could be taken to combat a problem he said was “widespread”.
“This isn’t about me or trying to get sympathy – I have had so much adversity in my life,” Burrell said.
“I’m trying to make a change for the better, for the game. I don’t want this in the game. I want it eradicated.”
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said he had spoken to Burrell and offered an apology.
“We are disturbed that this has been Luther’s experience and we applaud him for speaking out, racism in any walk of life is not acceptable,” he said.
“We apologise to Luther and all of those who have experienced any form of discrimination and will continue to work to eliminate it from our game.”
(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)