Ugo Monye says Premiership ‘does not care enough’ about racism in rugby

Ugo Monye with a microphone
Ugo Monye earned 16 international caps and now works as a TV and radio pundit after retiring from playing in 2015

Former England wing Ugo Monye says Premiership Rugby “does not care enough” about racism in the sport.

In August 2020, the league helped launch the Rugby Against Racism initiative and started giving time before games “to honour equality”.

But seven months on, Monye told BBC Sport he felt the Premiership’s actions were “just lip service” and “nothing more than PR”.

“If they cared, they would do something,” he added.

A Premiership Rugby spokesperson said: “Premiership Rugby is committed to making English professional club rugby a more diverse, welcoming and inclusive environment for our staff, players and fans while also supporting societal change.”

In September 2020, Sale wing Marland Yarde said he had been racially abused by a spectatorexternal-link during a Premiership game earlier in the season.

Monye said that, although Premiership Rugby had stressed the importance of improving diversity in the sport and making sure all players feel safe and protected, “no protocols have been established for racist incidents”.

He continued: “Premiership Rugby’s CEO Darren Childs said on TV back in August how important it was to improve representation in rugby.

“They promised they would put together a policy on racial abuse during games and circulate it to all Premiership teams, coaches and players.

“Marland Yarde got racially abused in a game at the end of February 2020. He did not know what to do about it.

“Since then, the only tangible thing Premiership Rugby have done is put together two pages. It could have been done in five minutes.

“It effectively says if you get racially abused, tell a match official about it.

“That document was sent to Marland Yarde – one player out of the entirety of the Premiership.”

Premiership Rugby said players can “raise concerns” at their clubs, adding “many will have their own policy or processes in place”.

“For a player, his or her team manager may be a good point of contact as they will regularly talk to them about a variety of issues,” a Premiership Rugby spokesperson continued.

“But most importantly anybody in rugby can contact the Rugby Football Union to raise concerns and the RFU would always investigate.”

‘I would expect more to have happened’

Rugby players stood in a line with the words "Racism is not acceptable in rugby, in sport, or the world we live in" on the big screen
Teams in the Six Nations have been observing a minute’s silence before games

Monye, who spent his club career at Harlequins, praised the work the RFU and Rugby Players’ Association have done on diversity and inclusion as “magnificent”.

In the Six Nations, all teams are observing a minute’s silence before matches.

The 37-year-old expressed frustration over media coverage of players’ decisions to take the knee or stand during the silence before games.

“I respect players that take the knee and those that don’t,” he explained.

“Seven months on from when rugby first put together an anti-racism campaign, I would expect more to have happened.

“Why should players put themselves out to be debated on social media when it has not really amounted to anything?

“The reason we wanted to acknowledge it was to start a debate that would lead to some action.

“Certain stakeholders in the game have decided not to do anything and I think that is because it does not matter enough to them.”

Premiership Rugby said it had made five commitments when launching Rugby Against Racism in August.

These included:

  • Work to improve representation of BAME players among coaches and referees
  • Supporting BAME players to participate in organisations at board level
  • Increasing access to the sport for young people from a BAME background through an initiative called Project Rugby
  • Reviewing recruitment practices
  • Engaging with BAME players to ensure all professional players feel safe and protected

Premiership Rugby said it was “delighted to see the continuation of Project Rugby”, adding: “Work has been going on to deliver the other four commitments and we are looking forward to receiving input from Rugby Players’ Association’s new diversity and inclusion board on the next steps for each of them.”

‘Words are empty if nothing changes’

Monye said he was “tired” of talking about racism, adding: “I don’t want to have another conversation about it unless it actually instigates meaningful change.”

The former British and Irish Lion supports the minute’s silence before international games but stressed that such shows of support must be followed up by actions.

“A minute’s silence is one thing, it is a moment of reflection,” he said. “If all we ever do is take a moment to reflect but not do anything, what is the point?

“I do not mind what mission statements are, I care about the actions they take to fulfil them. Words are empty if nothing comes off the back of it.

“I hope that it is not just fans taking a moment to reflect. I hope people in positions of power take a moment to reflect on whether they are doing enough.

“I hope the Premiership responds not just with words, but with action.”

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