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Luther Burrell on 'cut short' career, why he still won't name names

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Ex-England international Luther Burrell has claimed his career has been potentially cut short by the investigation into his racism allegations in English rugby, but he still won’t reveal the identities of his abusers. It was Tuesday when an independent investigation concluded that the 35-year-old was the victim of racial abuse during his time at Newcastle, but the RFU have ruled out taking disciplinary action.

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Burrell’s claims – made in the Mail on Sunday in June last year – were upheld by an inquiry that interviewed 93 members of staff at the club, including players and coaches. Amongst the evidence gathered was a post on a players’ WhatsApp group that contained a “wholly inappropriate racist term”.

In addition, Burrell was subject to a “further two specific incidents of racial abuse – one directed at the player and one witnessed by the player. At least two other employees of Newcastle gave evidence supporting Burrell’s allegations.

After the investigation concluded that it found that Burrell’s evidence was “reliable” and that his “motivation for making the allegations was his wish to eradicate racist behaviour from rugby union”, he embarked on a series of media interviews – including another sit-down with Sportsmail in which he explained the toll the investigation has taken on his career.

There were contract talks in Japan but that move fell through for personal reasons and it means that the only rugby the 15-cap Burrell has played since exiting Newcastle last June was with the Barbarians on their three-game England club tour last November.

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“People presume I have retired. I have not announced my retirement,” he told Sportsmail. “I feel my career has potentially been cut short because of this. Maybe they see me as too opinionated. It’s disappointing but would I want to play in the UK? Probably not.

“You have got to tell it how it is. Rugby has been in a tough place but when you are part of great environments it’s worth the day-to-day sacrifices. From a position of feeling a sense of belonging, I could never tell a young black lad from my community that you will get that.

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“It took for me to become an established player to get a bit of voice. There are cultural differences, racial profiling, stereotyping. People are surprised that I’m articulate because I’m from a council estate in Huddersfield.

“I went to Twickenham during the Six Nations and within two minutes one of the guys greeted a black player by his nickname, ‘Black Magic’. Stuff like that doesn’t sit well with me. Rugby at the moment is being very proactive to get this out of the game. They talk about education but it’s deeper than that. Where are the black referees? Where are the black coaches? Where are the black executives? It needs to start at the top.”

Explaining why he opted not to name the perpetrators of the racist abuse he suffered, Burrell explained: “There is a 45-strong playing squad at Newcastle and a couple have reached out to me but no coaches. I have been quite disappointed by that aspect.

“It took until February or March to sit down with the owner Semore Kurdi and have a chat. He seemed to be really hurt that things were going on under his roof. Some players I believed to be my friends almost disregarded what I said and that is disappointing. It has been a real learning process about who is there for you.

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“Mike Brown, he has been a good friend, checking in to see how things are. I’m so proud of him for what he is doing with Leicester. Luke Cheyne at the RPA. Kyle Eastmond, too. He really gets it. I don’t want an apology and I don’t want to drag Newcastle’s name through the mud.

“It is not about retribution. It has been about creating change and honest conversations. If my kids were to fall into rugby and experience something like this in 15 years’ time, I would have been so disappointed in myself if I hadn’t spoken out. You want to set examples as a father.”

Burrell had spoken with RugbyPass in May 2021 about his reasons for joining Newcastle and why he was outspoken at the time about mental health issues in the game.

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