Rugby authorities to seek racism feedback in wake of Luther Burrell allegations

Luther Burrell, who played 15 Tests for England between 2014 and 2016, left Newcastle this summer (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Archive)
Luther Burrell, who played 15 Tests for England between 2014 and 2016, left Newcastle this summer (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Archive)

English rugby authorities will launch a feedback process to discover the extent of racism in the game in the wake of allegations made by former England international Luther Burrell.

Burrell last month received apologies from the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL) after he said racism was “rife” within the sport and that racist “banter” had become normalised among team-mates.

The RFU, the sport’s national governing body, intends to begin a joint initiative alongside PRL and the Rugby Players Association (RPA) to uncover the scale of the issue.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has twice met Burrell in recent weeks and said the player will be “part of the process”.

Investigations are already under way to determine if any of the abuse experienced by the 32-year-old happened at Newcastle, his most recent club.

“It is very important and good for Luther to speak up,” said Sweeney. “He has been very open, very transparent. He’s explaining and telling us his feelings and his views in terms of what has happened.

“In terms of two tangible things coming out of that, we’ve reached an agreement with Newcastle in terms of what we have to do in there and to do the right appropriate independent review of what has happened there.

“That is the first stage. And he is fully involved in that, he is aware of all of that.

“And then, secondly, we are setting up – I don’t have the right word for it right now – but it is basically a means and a process jointly with the RPA and with PRL to go out to the broader professional game and create the right environment for people to be able to feed back in their views.

“I think it is important to go through that because until you go through that, you don’t know, you don’t get your arms around the extent of the issue.”

Huddersfield-born centre Burrell, who is of Jamaican descent, said he has been on the receiving end of comments about slavery, bananas and fried chicken.

He hoped to “empower younger generations” by speaking out and also said he will “never name names but it’s gone on for too long”.

Sweeney said: “I think Ellis (Genge, England prop) spoke, before the Australia match, and said that in his perception he didn’t feel that racism is rife.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

“But then how do you define that? And what is the extent of the issue we need to address?

“Is it ignorant banter that may have been acceptable years ago but no longer is? Does that lead you down an education route in terms of what is acceptable in this day and age and what isn’t?

“So we are in that stage now, and Luther is involved in that second phase as well, so he will be part of that process.”

Burrell, who played for Sale and Northampton before representing Newcastle for the past two seasons following a spell in rugby league with Warrington, won 15 Test caps for England between 2014 and 2016, scoring four tries.

Sweeney said the RFU had previously taken steps to avoid a racism scandal similar to the one at Yorkshire Cricket Club, where charges were brought against “a number of individuals” by the England and Wales Cricket Board.

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

“After the Yorkshire situation – and I don’t want to critique another sport – we said, ‘let’s test our processes if we had a similar situation’,” he said.

“How would we have handled that? We had a different mechanism in place to deal with that.

“The reaction to Luther’s comments was instantaneous in terms of ‘how do we work with Luther and others to find solutions?’.

“You can never be complacent but it’s very high on our radar. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the right systems and the right approach to manage them.”