Irish rugby international Simon Zebo has labelled comments from former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt as “cynical” and “silly”, after he appeared to equate racist abuse with ageism.
Mr Nesbitt’s comments followed the news that an Ulster fan had been banned for life after racially abusing Zebo during their game against Racing 92 at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast earlier this month.
After the game, Zebo tweeted: “A tough place to play but great effort from the boys, 2 important points on the road. Also I hope my ears deceived me with some comments directed my way from the crowd #NotOn”.
Zebo later described the man who allegedly accused him as “an elderly man, like 40-plus, so that’s why it just annoyed me a bit”.
Shortly after, former Ulster Unionist Party leader Mr Nesbitt tweeted: “First and foremost Simon Zebo should not have been abused by the Ulster fan who shouted something inappropriate – but Zebo shouldn’t describe him as ‘an elderly man, like 40 plus’. Ageism, racism, both wrong”.
Mr Nesbitt was roundly criticised on social media for equating the two, something that was not unnoticed by Zebo.
“I don’t take too much notice of what that fella said, I think he got enough backlash off that, there’s no need for me to stick it to him even more,” Zebo said.
“I didn’t mean any harm, I was trying to describe something that was an emotional topic so if I didn’t convey my words in the correct way… I didn’t think it would be picked up in such a cynical manner, but each to their own.
“I think it’s pretty silly (to equate the two), they’re worlds apart.”
Noting that he suffered racist abuse throughout his childhood and teenage years, Zebo said he felt it was important to call out racism, and “stand up for what I believe in” for his two children.
“It was a shitty thing to happen but that’s life, those things do happen, it’s good to put it behind me and get a positive outcome and your man getting banned was a positive outcome.”
Ulster have banned a fan for life following a “robust investigation” into allegations of abuse directed at the Ireland international.
The incident is alleged to have happened during a European Champions Cup pool game between Ulster and Zebo’s club Racing 92 at the Kingspan Stadium on January 12.
Zebo has not divulged what exactly was shouted, but noted it was “disgusting”.
Zebo, a full-back or wing, has won 35 caps and joined Paris-based Racing from Munster last summer.
Ulster said in a statement: “Following a robust investigation into allegations of abuse directed at Simon Zebo during the fixture versus Racing 92 on Saturday 12th January, Ulster Rugby has sanctioned a lifetime ban on a spectator, for breaching our stadium regulations.
“We would like to thank the many supporters who provided information to assist our investigation.
“We are all very proud of our reputation as an inclusive club and the unacceptable behaviour of this one individual is not reflective of our supporters, or the values of our club.
“We have issued a written apology to Simon Zebo and Racing 92.”
Racing published Ulster’s statement on their official website, and added: “We would like to thank Ulster Rugby’s staff deeply, and also the fans who gave their all in order to handle this situation.”