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Ashton Hewitt applauds Luther Burrell for speaking out against racism

By PA
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Dragons player Ashton Hewitt has applauded Luther Burrell after the former England centre spoke out against racism in rugby union.

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The Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby both apologised to Burrell, who said racism was “rife” in the sport.

Newport-born Hewitt, whose father is British-Jamaican, had previously talked of racist abuse he has received.

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In an interview with the Daily Mail, Burrell – who has played for clubs including Leeds, Sale, Northampton and Newcastle, plus Warrington in rugby league – spoke about dressing room racial “banter” that has “become normal” and “needs to be addressed”, including receiving comments about bananas, fried chicken and slavery and being greeted with a racial slur.

Hewitt said on Twitter: “I hope this opens the eyes of those who think rugby is exempt from social issues.

“Huge respect to @lutherburrell for the honesty.

“Hopefully it encourages others to not accept racism like so many of us have felt we have to.”

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Burrell added that he will “never name names but it’s gone on for too long”, and expressed his hope that speaking out would lead to change.

He said: “My son and daughter, three and five, are mixed race. Would I be happy with them getting the same racial “banter” from their friends? Of course not.

“There are numerous players in numerous environments who have experienced it. It needs to be spoken about. Maybe it will empower the next generation to call it out and force change.”

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Former England and British and Irish Lions wing Ugo Monye is chair of an independent diversity and inclusion advisory group that was established by the RFU last year.

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Monye tweeted: “Bravo @lutherburrell couldn’t of been easy for you. Unfortunately a familiar tale with some uncomfortable truths.”

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, meanwhile, said he had spoken with Burrell “to see if we can learn from his experience and possibly work with him as an advocate of change”.

And Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor said: “I have spoken with Luther to apologise for what he has experienced and to offer support.

“While there is a lot of positive activity in the area of equality, diversity and inclusion, this is a reminder of how far we still need to go.”

The Rugby Players’ Association also offered support for Burrell in a statement released on behalf of the RPA and RPA diversity and inclusion board.

“We applaud Luther Burrell for his decision to talk out about the racism he has encountered during his playing career,” the statement read.

“We have spoken to him and he knows he has our full support moving forward.

“There is no place for the language used against Luther, and the attitudes that reveals, either in rugby or broader society.

“His honest revelations only highlight the game’s need for meaningful conversations and education on what positive inclusive cultures should be.”

Northampton said they were “saddened and appalled” to read about their former player’s claims, but added he had not experienced any racist abuse during his time at the club.

Saints’ chief executive Mark Darbon said: “Everyone at Northampton Saints was saddened and appalled to read Luther Burrell’s comments published yesterday, detailing the racist abuse he has experienced during his playing career.

“The club condemns all forms of discrimination, and yesterday reached out to Luther to offer our support and applaud his bravery in speaking out.

“We were reassured during our conversation that Luther did not experience any racial abuse during his time at Northampton Saints. The Club will continue its ongoing work to make sure that Franklin’s Gardens remains an inclusive environment for all Northampton players, staff and supporters.”

Saints added they had invited Burrell to return to Franklin’s Gardens “to contribute towards the Diversity and Inclusion projects already being delivered by the club.

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