French rugby hit by racism after women’s team is targeted by opposing players during a match

By Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press

The insults descending from the stands were vicious, rude and racist, but not unusual.

“Go back home!”

What was more unusual was when they came from the players on the other team.

“I’ve got the African in check.”

“Filthy Black.”

“Calm down, this is not a housing project here!”

Awa Diakite, a rugby player from the Paris suburb club of Bobigny, described on social media the racist remarks that left her and many of her teammates in shock last weekend after a French Cup game in southwestern France.

The Bobigny club is from the poorest region of mainland France, the Seine-Saint-Denis, where many residents are immigrants or have immigrant roots.

The team had traveled to Lons, close to the town of Pau, for a match between two teams in the highest level of women’s rugby in France. Bobigny won the game but Diakite said she was saddened to play under such conditions.

“Every racist act reminds us that we have a long way to go to achieve a truly just and equitable society,” Diakite said.

The incidents sounded like a wake-up call that rugby, which usually takes the moral high ground when compared to soccer, is not exempt from racism.

Bobigny said in a statement it was not the first time players from the club were targeted.

“Enough is enough!” Bobigny said. “These stigmatizing remarks about our players are not isolated cases. Our teams are unfortunately confronted with that on a regular basis.”

Bobigny stopped short of criticizing its rival club, saying that Lons had always been very welcoming and is supporting more diversity in rugby.

Lons said it was aware of the “extremely serious accusations” against its players and had contacted Bobigny officials as well as the match referee “to try to establish the accuracy of the facts.”

“The club will take the necessary and appropriate measures,” it added. “Racism has no place in our sport, and even less so in our club, for which we have been striving for many years to put respect, tolerance and inclusion at the heart of our commitment and the values of our association.”

The French rugby federation reaffirmed “its unwavering commitment to combating all forms of racism in rugby.”

“As the sport’s governing body, the FFR is eager to reaffirm the values of equality, respect and diversity that lie at the heart of our sport,” the federation said, adding that referees should stop matches when they witness, or are made aware of, racist incidents.

Speaking to Le Parisien newspaper, Bobigny captain Gabriela Tanga said she and her teammates did not tell the referee.

She said some players were hurt and cried.

“It’s complicated enough being a woman in rugby. We come from all colors and religions,” Tanga said. “We represent diversity. So to not be respected to this extent … It affects our identity. One of the white players in our team cried, too. We have to bang our fists on the table. In 2024, it’s impossible this is happening.”

Tanga also called for sanctions.

“If this story gains momentum, if we talk about it, so much the better,” she told the newspaper. “We’re fed up. Because we come from 93 (the Seine-Saint-Denis is often referred as ‘ninety-three’ or ‘nine three’ after its official administrative number of 93) we’re always insulted as thugs, savages. We’ve had enough. We need to change our record, our mentality.”


AP Sports:

Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press

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