By: Sattwik Biswal
BRITISH and Irish Lions and England forward Maro Itoje said Rugby union can do more to tackle racism and increase diversity in the sport.
Floyd Steadman, a former player at Itoje’s club, was the first black captain to play the sport in the top tier of English rugby union. After his playing career, Steadman went on to become headmaster at Salcombe Prep School in north London, where he introduced a young Itoje to rugby.
“Rugby needs to cast its net wider to include more people and attract more talent,” Itoje told Radio 5 Live.
“The Rugby Football Union does a lot. Can they do more? Perhaps. Premiership Rugby does some things. Can they do more? Definitely. Premiership clubs probably don’t do as much as they should. Can they do more? 100 per cent.
“The more invested we all are in this, the greater the outcome will be.
“It has to do more to attract young rugby players from different backgrounds, environments and socio-economic groups and if it does that, everyone wins.
“There will be a better game and a better product and will lead to more fans, more people engaging and more demand for the broadcasters in terms of TV and for the guys putting money behind it
“Everyone’s a winner when the game is more diverse.”
Moreover, earlier this year, the RFU launched its independent diversity and inclusion advisory group which will “shape plans” and “challenge the RFU on its progress” in the area.
It added that the “priority areas for action” for now would be “ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and age”.
Steadman said he was proud of the players like Itoje of what they were doing to raise the issues of racism and diversity. “Some of what I had to deal with in my playing days was racist abuse, but a lot of it was unconscious bias from fans, opponents and teammates,” he says.
“A lot of it was also language which people thought was appropriate at the time but I knew it wasn’t.
“People would make assumptions based on the colour of my skin and I’ve challenged them to look again at me, the man.”
Earlier this year, Itoje became a patron of The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise that would aim to fill in gaps in the current UK schools curriculum by teaching black history all the year round.
“We’re all in this journey together,” he said.
“Black, brown, white, blue, pink and I do believe the more we converse with one another, the more we understand one another and educate one another on different people’s opinions, ways of life and ways of seeing things, the closer we will get to a more equitable society.”
Itoje still take the knee before games, but denied being let down by his England teammates who do not join him.
“One thing that is clear from all the England players is that they’re against racism, they’re against discrimination and they’re against any form of racial abuse,” he says.
“Each player has to make their judgement whether they feel comfortable doing that and players will have their certain reasons.
“I’m not going to say if you don’t take the knee it means you are racist, that’s too simplistic.
“But while I do believe symbolic gestures are important, the most important thing is doing the work when you are in the public eye but also in private life as well.”