Time to tackle racial abuse

Dave Hadfield looks at moves to adopt a football-style charter in rugby league
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The Independent Online
The game is to consider introducing a charter similar to the one that operates in football, after acknowledging that it has a "small but significant problem" of racism.

A study published yesterday reveals that all black players surveyed had been racially abused by spectators and that almost half of the supporters questioned were aware of abusive chanting.

All professional clubs were named by various respondents as places where black players were racially abused. One of Britain's highest-profile black players, the Wigan winger Martin Offiah, recalled incidents of racial abuse from opponents: "More so against Australia."

Ikram Butt, until recently the only Asian player in the professional game, said that racial taunts, from players and spectators, had increased as he had become better-known, first with Featherstone and now with the London Broncos.

"Sometimes it is done in a joking sense, but I don't see why I should accept it," said Butt, who has also been in the front line of trying to attract more Asians to play and watch the game.

Neil Tunnicliffe, the League's project co-ordinator, said that blacks and Asians were under-represented on the terraces and had less access to playing opportunities. "We need to make grounds more welcoming environments," he said.

The Wigan and Great Britain captain, Shaun Edwards, argued that abuse of players was a more general problem. "The language coming off the terraces is appalling. If I had children, I'd think twice about taking them to the game," he said. "It is getting worse and so far the Rugby League has turned a blind eye to it.''

Edwards believes that better stewarding would help. That, along with a policy of taking action against players and fans who indulge in racial abuse, is part of the charter that football has adopted.

Many in rugby league are reluctant to accept that a game which has had prominent black players for longer than football or rugby union needs to take similar steps.

The game will now decide whether it needs to follow football's example. "Many clubs already follow the policies of the charter," said Tunnicliffe. "It is a matter for the broader government of the game whether something should be done across the board, but we would expect clubs to be with us all the way."

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