There is more racism in football than rugby because of a lack of education, according to England rugby union international Maro Itoje.
Football has seen a number of high-profile incidents of alleged racist abuse in recent months involving the likes of Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling.
When asked why rugby seems to suffer less overtly from racism than football does, Itoje said: “I think rugby fans – and people in rugby – are a little bit more educated than those in football.”
He added: “That’s not to say rugby’s perfect. There are subtle things in rugby that we need to try and stamp out and get rid.”
Itoje, who plays his club rugby for Saracens, also says the intense rivalry and tribalism between fans of different football clubs brings their “unconscious bias” to the surface in the form of racist abuse.
“Football fans are as passionate to their club as they are towards their religion, or in some sense their country,” he said.
“When an opposition player, who is a person of colour, does damage to their team, they then bring out something as they want to hurt them. Often the way they do that is throw abuse at them, and that abuse is perceived to hurt them.
“With that it goes to the subconscious/unconscious bias that a lot of people have innately in them. So when they then spout out that abuse and they say a racist slur towards them, it goes back to their unconscious bias that they already had in them.
“I think in rugby, it’s nowhere near as tribal. The fans are passionate but they’re passionate in a different way. The values of rugby are so important, not only to the players but to the staff and the fans.”
Satisfaction when you ‘smoke’ somebody
Itoje has also defended the level of physical aggression in rugby, saying it is key to the sport’s appeal for players and fans – provided it is within the rules.
“If you go back to decades, centuries, millenniums ago, people were fighting. And not only fighting as a way to survive but as a spectacle, as a sport,” he said.
“There’s always been an appeal to people fighting one another. It’s always something that’s got people excited and the physical aspect to rugby is no different.
“A lot of players get a great deal of satisfaction after they ‘smoke’ somebody, after they hit them hard. I do, I completely put myself in that bracket. On the flip side, when you’re on the receiving end of it and you get hit, you’re like ‘OK now it’s my turn to try and dish out some of the damage.’ Obviously all within the letter of the law.
“It’s just a part of the game that people love and it’s a part of the game that has to keep going.”