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'Deeply sorry' Italian prop cops big ban for Traore banana 'gift'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Tullio Puglia/Federugby/via Getty Images)

Italy prop Ivan Nemer has copped a hefty ban following an investigation into his racist secret Santa gift to Benetton and Azzurri teammate Cherif Traore. It was in the week before Christmas that Traore took to social media to explain his disgust at receiving a rotten banana, and his public calling out of the racist gift eventually resulted in the Treviso-based URC franchise suspending an unnamed player on December 22. 


A Federal Court investigation was launched and 35 days later it has now been decided to ban Nemer, the 11-cap front-rower, from rugby until June 30. The forward appeared off the Italy bench in all three of their recent Autumn Nations Series matches but was omitted from Kieran Crowley’s 34-strong squad for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations. 

An Italian Rugby Federation statement read: “Ivan Nemer, the Benetton prop, has been disqualified until June 30. The sanction was imposed by the Federal Court following the request for indictment by the federal prosecutor and in compliance with the FIR justice regulations and World Rugby rule 18.

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“This was on the basis of the investigations carried out in relation to what occurred during a lunch organised by Benetton Rugby players on December 20 and publicly announced via social media by Ivan Nemer’s teammate, Cherif Traore, and the subsequent request for a plea deal.

“In defining the sanction, the Federal Court, in accepting the request for a plea bargain, took into consideration Nemer’s desire to shed full clarity on what happened, the regret represented towards his teammate, the recognition of the shame caused by his behaviour to the image of the Benetton Rugby franchise, of Italian rugby and of the game in general, as well as the exemplary behavior always maintained by the player on and off the field during his career.

“The Italian Rugby Federation, in taking note of the decision taken by the Federal Court, has defined in agreement with Benetton Rugby that the player actively participates as a specialist in the scrum ordered by the FIR migrants project and that, at the same time, he takes part in a training course and raising awareness on integration issues in an independent structure, which will be specially identified for him.


“The player’s future involvement in the Italy team activity is subject to permanent participation and the subsequent successful completion of the training and awareness-raising process, which must be certified by the organising body.”

A statement from Nemer read: “Racism has not and will never have any role in my life, as it shouldn’t have in the life of any of us. I’m deeply sorry for what happened, for the stupidity of my gesture, for the displeasure caused to a friend, for having caused damage to my team, my teammates, the country I represent and the game I love.

“I come from a multicultural country like Argentina, where cultures have been mixing for over a century, and I have always shared the locker room and the field with teammates and friends from all over the world. What happened does not represent me but at the same time, it must make me and make us reflect on how much more needs to be done to change our culture, overcome the most blatant stereotypes, bring us closer to each other even more than is already happening.

“I accept the disqualification and the reintegration process with serenity but above all, I trust in the months and years to come that I will be able to contribute with my testimony to making more and more young rugby players aware of issues that must be addressed and understood to improve not only our sports but the world we live in.”


Benetton were widely criticised in the immediate wake of the racism incident becoming public in December when Test-level prop Traore posted to his Instagram the revelation that he had been gifted a banana during his club’s secret Santa presentation.

Apologies were made to Traore after the club summoned the Benetton squad to a meeting and while the player attempted to draw a line under the controversy when later posting a follow-up message on Instagram, the reaction of the club was hugely criticised by high-profile players such England vice-captain Ellis Genge who called them out over their lenient reaction.

URC, the five-nation, 16-team league that Benetton play in, then issued a statement explaining that they wanted a full report from the club on what had happened, but the racism incident took on greater urgency when the Italian federation confirmed that a legal investigation had been launched and that Benetton had suspended a then unnamed player who turned out to be Nemer. 


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