An unnamed Benetton player has been suspended after Cherif Traore received a rotten banana in the club’s Secret Santa, after England prop Ellis Genge, as well as the United Rugby Championship, called for action.
On Wednesday, Traore revealed on his Instagram that he was given a rotten banana during Benetton’s Secret Santa, an incident that drew laughter from teammates but which he described as an “offensive gesture”.
The club have been criticised for how they initially dealt with the situation, but they have now suspended the player responsible pending an investigation.
The Italian club initially released a statement condemning racism but made no mention of an investigation in response to Traore’s shocking disclosure.
Benetton’s statement read: “With reference to the post that appeared this morning on the social media of the Green and White player Cherif Traore, Benetton would like to reiterate that it has always condemned with the utmost firmness any expression of racism and/or form of discrimination.
“They are not part of our culture and do not represent our identity and our values. We have always proved it with deeds, not just with words, and we will continue to strongly support it.
“Similar behaviours have nothing to do with sport, and in the face of episodes like this, Benetton will always be on the side of respecting people, their culture, their ethnicity, their faith and their dignity.”
All Benetton players were summoned to the club’s training ground, where they apologised to Traore and were addressed by club president Amerino Zatta.
Following the meeting, a video was posted on Benetton’s social media where Traore accepted the apology.
“The meeting was an opportunity to discuss and understand how what one of my teammates did when exchanging Christmas presents is purely the result of idiocy and nothing else,” Traore said.
“I appreciate and accept his apology and that of the entire team. I’m happy with the gesture, and I’m sure what happened will make the group even more solid.
“We are a family, and as such, we will continue to commit ourselves on and off the pitch, fighting, as we always have, against all forms of discrimination.”
Unnamed player suspended
On Thursday afternoon, Benetton and the Italian Rugby Federation released a joint statement confirming the suspension of the culprit for the duration of the investigation.
The statement read: “The Italian Rugby Federation and Benetton Rugby, in the aftermath of the affair involving some of the members of the Franchigia, wish to reiterate their firm condemnation of all forms of racism and discrimination, which have not and must not have any place in the within the Italian rugby movement, sport and civil society.
“The FIR and Benetton Rugby inform that the Federal Prosecutor has launched the necessary investigations to ascertain the facts, as well as the collective and individual responsibilities, to protect the founding values and reputation of the Game.
“Benetton Rugby has simultaneously decided to suspend one of its members as a precaution, for the entire duration of the investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
“It will be the exclusive competence of the federal sports justice bodies, on the basis of the results of the investigations, to impose any sports or administrative sanctions, in total autonomy and without interference of any kind by bodies external to the FIR Justice.
“FIR and Benetton Rugby – having also heard the favorable opinion of Zebre Parma – have also agreed to jointly deepen the process of raising awareness and awareness of inclusion issues for their athletes.”
Reacting to the initial post from Traore, Simon Zebo called for the culprit to be named and shamed.
Name and shame the scumbag
Should be out of a job 🤬 pic.twitter.com/xWwcYX99xh
— Simon Zebo (@SimonZebo) December 21, 2022
England prop Genge reacted to the apology by tweeting: “No well done, absolutely right, “gifting” a “team mate” a rotten banana for secret Santa is not a big deal, and a simple apology will suffice!
“If there is no further action on this from Benetton then everything we’ve done for “rugby against racism” has been a tick box for most.”
No well done, absolutely right, “gifting” a “team mate” a rotten banana for secret Santa is not a big deal and a simple apology will suffice!
If there is no further action on this from Benetton then everything we’ve done for “rugby against racism” has been a tick box for most. https://t.co/FlMkzzF3U6
— Gengey (@EllisGenge) December 22, 2022
Former England centre Luther Burrell, who has previously spoken of being subject to racist abuse in rugby union, said he was saddened by the incident.
“Nobody should be accepting this abhorrent behaviour, ! It really saddens me, I can only imagine he feels ostracised, for his teammates to behave like this, for them to snigger while he opens a wrapped banana as a gift is cruel, it’s inhumane.. now it’s damage control for them,” Burrell said.
Nobody should be accepting this abhorrent behaviour, ! It really saddens me, I can only imagine he feels ostracised, for his teammates to behave like this, for them to snigger while he opens a wrapped banana as a gift is cruel, it’s inhumane.. now it’s damage control for them 😤 https://t.co/yigJEr4PRh
— Luther Burrell (@lutherburrell) December 22, 2022
Cooper Vuna was another who criticised the club’s decision to get the prop to make a video accepting the apology.
Quick do a video to save us , F*** the actual person who’s given you the banana – it’ll blow over in a week! Some family. Shame!!! 🤬 https://t.co/NCz68oOaXh
— Cooper Vuna (@CVUNA) December 22, 2022
Stade Francais’ Paolo Odogwu also hit out at the club, tweeting:
“Crazyy lack of accountability here, doesn’t feel much like “family” making the person whose already suffered do the PR,”
Crazyy lack of accountability here, doesn’t feel much like “family” 🙃 making the person whose already suffered do the PR
— Paolo Odogwu (@notoriousPCO) December 22, 2022
The United Rugby Championship called for “meaningful action” in their statement on Thursday after confirming that they had been in communication with the club over what had occurred.
“The United Rugby Championship has been in communication with Benetton Rugby regarding the incident first identified in a social media post of Cherif Traore, the Italian international prop forward,” the statement read.
“Benetton Rugby has been asked to provide a full report on what has occurred and what meaningful action will be taken as a result.
Racism and discrimination of any kind are abhorrent, completely unacceptable in society and are utterly counter to the values of the sport of rugby and the United Rugby Championship.”