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Bongi Mbonambi labels 'first world' England 'unprofessional' after racism saga

By Josh Raisey
Mbongeni Mbonambi of South Africa celebrates victory following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Gold Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Michael Steele - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

South Africa hooker Bongi Mbonambi has called the England team “unprofessional” for their allegation that he used discriminatory language towards Tom Curry at the World Cup.

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In one of the most notorious sagas of the entire tournament, the Springboks star was part of a World Rugby investigation after the England flanker believed he was racially abused by him during the semi-final.

World Rugby closed the investigation before the final saying there was “insufficient evidence”, allowing Mbonambi to play in the 12-11 victory over the All Blacks, although he only lasted a matter of minutes before going off with a knee injury.

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Speaking to BBC Sport Africa recently, the 32-year-old denied racially swearing and instead said that he was speaking Afrikaans, before labelling England as “unprofessional”  for assuming the Springboks would speak English.

“I think it is a very sad thing when you live in a first world country, you think the rest of the world speaks English,” the two-time World Cup winner said.

“It was unprofessional on their part. They could have gone on a website and looked for an English dictionary and looked for the word in Afrikaans.

“People understood [in South Africa] but obviously their side was misunderstood.

“I’m glad it was well taken care of [by World Rugby] and that is all in the past now.

“But I have never racially swore at him.”

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While Mbonambi has defended himself here and criticised England, World Rugby did stress after their review that Curry, who has since been subjected to death threats online, made the allegation in “good faith”.

The statement said: “It is important to note that World Rugby accepts that Tom Curry made the allegations in good faith and that there is no suggestion that the allegation was deliberately false or malicious.”

“World Rugby is also concerned by the social media abuse that both players have been subjected to this week. There is no place in rugby or society for discrimination, abuse or hate speech, and World Rugby urges fans to embrace the sport’s values of respect, integrity and solidarity.”

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Comments

33 Comments
L
Lyle 254 days ago

This in lies the problem with pompous RFU and pompous Curry. At no point was there any attempt clarify the situation after the game. Both have tried to milk they this for everything it’s worth.
Clearly Bongi wasn’t directing those words at him. But he heard what he thought he heard and tried to milk the referee for an advantage in the game.
The RFU on its side could have also accepted World Rugby investigation. Instead they jumped onto the bandwagon of Tom Curry themselves without doing even the most rudimentary checks to see what is plausible.
I just find the whole situation very ironic. Dont get me wrong, I’m 100% against racism and unfortunately having it directed to me multiple times in my life. On all the occasions it was directed at me it was never about the words, rather an attempt of power (letting me know my place). I just find it incredible hard to find how Curry was harmed in this situation, other than his own actions. Here we have by all accounts a white bloke who plays for one of the wealthiest unions and comes from a country who has a history of colonising half the world feeling threatened by the words he thought he heard from a black bloke you grew up disadvantaged and from a country which was negatively impacted from colonialism. Think Tom Curry needs a lesson in racism, and perhaps he can stop over the natural history museum and see the many artifacts they have parade out from round the world and ask them how it has come about that they rest in that place.

E
Etienne 255 days ago

The Afrikaner community in South Africa were doubling over with laughter when this broke.

Ofcourse they love and backed Bongi to the hilt.

In the end he was on the ‘wen kant’, the winning side, the most important kant of all.

A
Adam 256 days ago

As an England fan, I do think Curry should apologise. But the “first world” comment seems a bit unnecessary.

Is it really that hard to believe that someone who doesn’t speak Afrikaans (and has no reason to) could easily interpret the words “wit kant” the way Curry did? Especially when you add the intensity of the moment and 70,000 fans yelling into it?

C
Christo 256 days ago

Even if Curry made the accusation in good faith (or shal we call it English ignorance), then he should have the decency to apologise as loudly as he did when he accused Bongi in the first place.

J
Jon 256 days ago

Heal up Bongi. Time to open up the hurt locker for England next time

P
Poorfour 256 days ago

I’m very disappointed by the reaction to this incident, especially from World Rugby.

I hope we are all agreed that - regardless of what was actually said - the language that Curry reported hearing is not something we want on a rugby pitch, especially not in one of the highest profile matches in the sport’s showpiece event? That such language is likely to deter supporters at a time when rugby needs all the support it can get?

That being the case, it’s important that World Rugby takes such allegations seriously and investigates them properly. Which it failed to do.

It’s also important to note that Mbonambi categorically isn’t denying saying something that Curry could have heard as a racial slur. Instead, he has said that he made a tactical call in Afrikaans - and is now criticising Curry for assuming it was in English.

But Mbonambi isn’t a native Afrikaans speaker, as far as I know. He hails from the Free State, which is the province with the lowest proportion of Afrikaans speakers.

And while the Springboks are known for making some of their calls in Afrikaans, they’re also all fluent in English.

Even if the call was as Mbonambi claims, it’s pretty disingenuous to think that the Boks had no inkling what a call like that would sound like to a native English speaker who doesn’t speak Afrikaans - and what effect it might have on them. Or what effect it might have on a largely English-speaking global audience had it been picked up on a mic.

What’s more, the RFU has released audio of a very similar altercation from an earlier game, which doesn’t sound like an innocent tactical call that’s been misinterpreted.

Overall, there’s more than enough there that it should at least have been properly investigated rather than brushed under the carpet.

Imagine if the situation had been the other way round, and WR had declined to act while English players and fans mocked Mbonambi. Would that have been acceptable? If not, why is this situation OK?

J
Jon 256 days ago

Big fails for the English RFU on their statement and Curry - you’re a distraction at best

s
sam 256 days ago

Curry was being cynical - trying to gain an advantage: by doing so he dragged an innocent man down and tarnished the final build up. What’s worse was the RFUs response. Bongi was the victim - glad he’s spoke up. Regardless this was blow up by the toxic British press.

J
Jono 256 days ago

Rest of World just don’t like when a third world country, with less resources, pitches up and steals the show. Agree that Curry made the allegation in good faith, but everything that has transpired since is just ridiculous and embarrassing to both England Rugby and the game in general.

A
Ace 256 days ago

Kinda sad that a world-class rugby player would go whining to the ref because an opponent insulted him. What was Curry actually trying to achieve?

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