Simon Zebo: ‘I wouldn’t say racism is an issue in rugby’

Simon Zebo is happy that rugby does not have a racism problem, despite the abuse he suffered at the hands of a lone Ulster fan during a Champions Cup game at Kingspan Stadium earlier this month.

The Racing 92 star brought the incident to the public’s attention in a tweet following his side’s narrow Champions Cup loss in Belfast, and it resulted in the Irish province issuing a lifetime ban to one spectator and an apology to both Zebo and his club.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an issue in rugby,” he explained on a visit to Dublin in his role as a Paddy Power ambassador.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like that before in my life in rugby, from U5, 6 and eights, really up until a couple of weeks ago.

“I never felt a presence of that in rugby and I hope that was just a once-off and nobody has to go through that again, because it’s silly.

“Especially as Ulster have another winger (Robert Baloucoune) playing who has the same skin tone as me.”

The former Munster favourite, in Dublin on a break as the Top 14 goes into a rare hibernation, was fulsome again in his praise of Ulster’s swift response to the incident and he laughed off suggestions that he had been ageist in describing the fan in question as an “elderly” man in his 40s.

Northern Ireland Assembly member and former Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt had made that accusation and Zebo was happy to dismiss it as the nonsense it was, especially given the backlash Nesbitt had already faced on social media.

“Each to their own and he’s old enough to take the consequences of that,” he said.

No pun intended, of course, Zebo, understandly, opted against explaining the specific nature of the word(s) used by the supporter in question at the time.

To do so, he said, would merely amount to creating another headache, and one he doesn’t need.

Whatever it was, the insult was aimed at him in the first-half of the European encounter, shortly after he had crossed for his try, and his reaction then and since has been exemplary.

Water off a duck’s back, he insisted. “I’d be bulletproof with that stuff.”

It’s not that he hasn’t experienced racist remarks outside of rugby. Young children and teenagers could be especially mindless in that sense when he was growing up in Cork “on the streets, in the ghetto” as he explained, tongue firmly in cheek.

It was his tweet which drew attention to the ugly incident in the first place. It was important for him that his children should be able to google all this one day and see that their dad stood up to the ignorance and the bile. That he made a stand and brought the matter to a head.

“A light was shone on it for a little bit and people were aware and some people were disgusted,” he said.

“It just freshened people’s minds as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

“In any walk of life that kind of thing is not acceptable, not just in rugby or sport. It would be interesting to see if a person like that had the balls to come up to somebody’s faces and say it. It’s a cowardly act, a cowardly move.”

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