Tom Bradshaw: Rugby must stay alert in fight against racism
Like any sports fan – or like any human being, for that matter – I found the scenes in Serbia following the England under-21 match there on Tuesday disgraceful.
The alleged monkey chants directed towards black players and the ensuing on-pitch brawl belonged to the cesspit not the sport pitch.
Rugby union likes to think that it is above racism, both in terms of player attitudes and supporters' attitudes. And while it is unquestionably true that rugby in this country is a brilliantly inclusive sport, it would be naïve to think that it is completely free of the toxin of racial prejudice.
Ten days ago, Redruth launched an inquiry after a visiting black player was "jeered" by a small minority of the 809-strong crowd. It wasn't made explicit that the abuse was racist, but the clear implication was that the Canterbury player had been singled out because of the colour of his skin.
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It is to Redruth's credit that they publicly announced that they were launching an immediate investigation as soon as the issue was brought to their attention. Within hours a statement was on their website, and those behind the abusive behaviour were warned that they would be banned from the ground and expelled from the club.
The fact that this was a National League 2 South match rather than a Premiership game is irrelevant. How sad it is that this occurred at any rugby ground in the UK.
I spoke to former Bath flanker Steve Ojomoh in the event's aftermath and he told me that he had been subject to racial abuse as a player.
Ojomoh was born in Nigeria and went onto represent England between 1994 and 1998. Like England U21 defender Danny Rose, Ojomoh heard what he believed was racist behaviour during a warm-up.
"I'd be lying if I said there hadn't been incidents when I played – a warm-up during a match in Northampton comes to mind," Ojomoh told me.
"Rugby has opened up to people of different backgrounds more and more. There are more black players now. People are more educated. But you are always going to get a few idiots and that's what happened at Redruth."
The view from the professional game is encouraging. When I spoke to the Rugby Players' Association following the inquiry at Redruth, they said a player had never gone to the union to report a racist incident. This suggests that – at the elite level – racism has been shown the door.
The warmth of atmosphere at rugby grounds is, in my experience, always terrific, with banter and bonhomie flowing. But the Redruth incident illustrates that rugby can't be complacent. It shouldn't be the case that rugby has to put up with "a few idiots" from time to time. They should be kicked into touch and kicked out of grounds. A minimum five- year ban ought to convey the right message.