RFU survey reveals players had experienced some form of racism 'in every area of the elite game'

The RFU launched its investigation after racism allegations made by centre Luther Burrell

The Rugby Football Union have said they will increase their efforts to eradicate discrimination from the game after their inclusion and diversity survey found that players had experienced some form of racism "in every area of the elite game."

The research was commissioned by the RFU last year after the former England international Luther Burrell's allegations of racism he suffered as a player at Newcastle Falcons in 2020.

The governing body released the results this week and found Burrell’s allegations to be true but there was "insufficient evidence to say whether all the allegations occurred at the club."

The summary released by the RFU stated: "On balance of probability, the allegations made in the Mail on Sunday article [which was published last summer] are true but there is insufficient evidence to say whether all the allegations occurred at the club, apart from the WhatsApp message which contained a racist comment.

"The player was found to be subject to a further two specific incidents of racial abuse (one directed at the player and one witnessed by the player), therefore, the player was subject to racial abuse verbally and in the WhatsApp group. 

"While corroboration of the allegations made by the player is not required to support those allegations, there was support for the allegations in the evidence of at least two other employees of the club.

"A highly relevant piece of evidence was a WhatsApp post which contained a racist comment (the club has made it clear that this was a group which only players could access and was not set up by the club).?The player’s evidence was found to be reliable and his motivation for making the allegations was his wish to eradicate racist behaviour from rugby union.

"Inclusion and diversity have been a significant focus for rugby union over recent years, and while a great deal of work has been undertaken across all areas of the game, revelations last summer by Luther Burrell about his experiences of racism and classism during his career in the sport necessitated a deeper look at these issues and the broader culture within the elite end of the game.?"

The key findings from the research also included: "Accessing and navigating through the pathways or personal experiences within elite environments, is an issue which affects the game and fuels an elitist perception" while "efforts by the game to respond to discrimination to date, while well intended, have been either short-lived or perceived as performative.?"

The RFU said 93 Newcastle employees were interviewed during the course of the investigation: "Many of the employees stated that the culture at the club was good but there was ‘banter’ between players which was sometimes harsh, even brutal.

“However, the report makes clear that racist, homophobic and misogynist abuse is not ‘banter’ and categorising such abuse as such minimises the seriousness of the abuse. The report recommends that the RFU should consider a disciplinary investigation based on the information obtained."

RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney added: "Luther was very brave to come forward and share his experiences of racism and classism in the game and he has the continued support of the union.

"Working together, the RFU, PRL [Premiership Rugby], P15s [Premier 15s] and RPA [Rugby Players’ Association], will act collectively to eliminate racism, classism and any form of discrimination from our game and ensure club environments are inclusive for any player from every background.

“Our collective inclusion and diversity action plan for the elite game has been accelerated in light of Luther’s experience. It highlights the need for more inclusive leadership, the need to look at reporting processes, and to broaden access to the game and pathways."