Dual-code England international Jason Robinson says not enough is being done to eradicate racism from rugby league.
In an exclusive interview with the PA news agency, the former Wigan winger has opened up about his own experiences of racist abuse and says the game’s failure to adequately deal with the recent Tony Clubb incident highlights the problems that still exist.
Clubb was given an eight-week ban by the Rugby Football League – the minimum punishment for a Grade F offence – and fined two weeks’ wages by Wigan after being found guilty of racially abusing Hull second rower Andre Savelio in a Super League match.
Hull coach Brett Hodgson says the ban was too lenient and Robinson suggests there was an attempt to brush the matter under the carpet.
“Rugby league doesn’t need any more challenges in difficult times,” said Robinson, an England World Cup winner in 2003 who retains his involvement in league as an ambassador for the 2021 World Cup and a Man of Steel panelist.
“We’re trying to move the game forward and there’s been a lot of stuff around what’s been said to players on social media, whether that’s to do with race, religion or ethnicity.
“Maybe it was a good time because what was said was obviously unacceptable and has to be dealt with and dealt with in the right way. I think part of the problem is that some of it was played down.
“Sometimes it’s not just that something’s been said because we all get things wrong at times but the key thing is how you deal with it.
“If he’s genuinely made a mistake, then surely you put your hand up and say ‘I was wrong, I’ll take the punishment and I’ll put it right’.
“If it was in the heat of the moment, it was still wrong. Why has there not been some comment from him?
“It’s brought the game into disrepute.
“Has it been sorted out? If there has been an apology, make us all aware.
“It’s almost hush-hush, like ‘let’s deal with this as quickly as possible and hope people forget about it’.”
Leeds-born Robinson made over 300 appearances for Wigan from 1991-2000 and has vivid memories of the abuse he and fellow black winger Martin Offiah received from fans.
“Back in my day, I had some of the most horrendous racial abuse so I know how horrible it feels,” he said. “I’ve had crowds of thousands screaming abuse.
“My mum’s in the crowd – she’s white and nobody knew she was my mum – and she was proud as punch.
“We’ve come from a deprived area, her son’s done well, he’s now playing for Wigan and now she’s got to sit through 80 minutes of racist abuse.
“Me and Martin Offiah got absolutely abused and, when we came off the pitch, nobody would bat an eyelid.
“Nobody ever said ‘we’re really sorry for what you heard today, it shouldn’t happen’.
“We just had to get on with it. I don’t care how tough you are or how hard you try to block it out, it hurts.
“We had to rise above it, we had to fuel it to sometimes silence crowds because there were times when we knew they were doing it just to try to put us off our game.
“Thankfully players now don’t get it to the levels we did but it’s still there in different ways.”
The RFL set up an action plan called ‘Tackle It’ in an attempt to make rugby league an inclusive sport by tackling discrimination and breaking down barriers but Robinson says the Clubb incident shows how much work there is still to be done.
“I think most people will agree it’s not been dealt with in the right way but it’s probably because a lot of people don’t know how to deal with it,” said Robinson, 46, who is operations director for World Cup qualifiers Jamaica.
“It’s probably caused more division by how it’s been dealt with, which is such a shame.
“In order to deal with it properly and move on, you’ve got to have people there that have the experience, not just people who have been on a training course.
“Let’s get to the bottom of it, let’s help the people who are doing it because a lot of the time it’s down to ignorance.
“The game has great for me and I’ve been good for the game. What we want to do is make sure this doesn’t become a barrier to other people picking up a rugby ball.
“We have to address it, otherwise people will look at the game and say ‘why on earth would I want to put my kids through that?’.”