Benetton's Cherif Traorè revealed he was gifted a rotten banana by an anonymous team-mate
Italy prop Cherif Traorè has accepted an apology from all of his Benetton team-mates after revealing his horror at receiving a rotten banana as a secret Santa present from a club colleague. Big figures in the sport are calling for far stronger action on this.
Traorè explained on social media that he’d suffered a sleepless night after the incident while revealing his hurt that “most” of his other Benetton colleagues laughed at the “offensive gesture”.
Traorè previously told Rugby World that he had “never experienced any issues” in Italy due to the colour of his skin. In February 2021, he said: “Maybe behind my back people call me names, but nobody has ever said something like that to my face. Maybe people are scared by my size!”
The 28-year-old, who has won 16 caps for the Azzurri, stated he had gone public in order to educate the perpetrator and in response, Benetton released a statement condemning racism but making no mention of any investigation or further action for the individual involved.
Benetton later released a second statement that stated the entire squad had been summoned to the club by president Amerino Zatta and general manager Antonio Pavanello who reiterated the fact they condemned any form of racism or discrimination before the players apologised to Traorè.
Benetton said Traorè had accepted the apology and released a video of him speaking in Italian with a caption which when translated says: “What matters is having understood the mistake and apologising.”
However, many are calling for Benetton to take more meaningful action with England vice captain Ellis Genge saying: “No well done, absolutely right, “gifting” a “team mate” a rotten banana for secret Santa is not a big deal and a simple apology will suffice! If there is no further action on this from Benetton then everything we’ve done for “rugby against racism” has been a tick box for most.”
Former Premiership star and Australia and Tonga international Cooper Vuna said: “Quick do a video to save us , F*** the actual person who’s given you the banana – it’ll blow over in a week! Some family. Shame!!!”
The club’s latest statement included a quote from Traorè who said: “This afternoon’s meeting was an opportunity to discuss and understand how what one of my companions did on the occasion of exchanging Christmas presents is purely the result of idiocy and nothing other.
“I appreciate and accept his apology and that of the entire team. I’m happy with the gesture and I’m sure what happened will make the group even more solid. We are a family and as such we will continue to commit ourselves on and off the pitch, fighting, as we always have, against all forms of discrimination.”
President Zatta suggested the incident could inadvertently bring the playing squad closer together, saying: “What happened against Cherif does not in any way reflect our identity and the values that the Benetton family has been carrying forward for years. I’m glad that Cherif accepted the apology, understanding the absurd stupidity of one of his teammates.
“I am sure that this will strengthen the sense of cohesion within the group and that such a gesture will never again find fertile ground within our family.”
While Benetton co-captain and Italy skipper Michele Lamaro hinted the squad would proactively work towards eliminating discrimination, adding: “On behalf of the entire team, I reiterate that we condemn any expression of racism and that no form of discrimination is accepted in our dressing room.
“We are all aware that certain limits should never be crossed. Finally, I would like to communicate publicly that as a team we have decided to strengthen our social commitment by embarking on a path aimed at the fight against any form of discrimination.”
In a now deleted Instagram post, Traorè initially wrote on Wednesday morning: “Christmas is coming, and as is tradition in our team, it’s time for Secret Santa.
“A convivial, playful moment. A time when you can allow yourself to give anonymous gifts to your team-mates, even ironic, stinging ones. Yesterday, when my turn came, I found a rotten banana as my gift. A rotten banana in a food waste bag.
“In addition to considering this gesture offensive, the thing that hurt me the most was seeing most of my team-mates laugh. As if this was perfectly normal.
“I’ve had to get used to putting a brave face on it every time I hear a joke with racist undertones, in order to not make enemies of those around me.
“However, yesterday was different. Thankfully, a few team-mates, most of them foreign, tried to support me. Outside of Italy, gestures like this are heavily condemned, even in small environments, and this time I want to say my piece.
“I didn’t sleep the whole night. For this Secret Santa, there were young players present, including some from different backgrounds.
“I have decided not to stay silent this time so that incidents like this one do not happen again and so that no other person finds themselves in a situation like this in the future. I also hope that the sender [of the gift] learns a lesson.”
URC side Benetton’s first statement read: “With reference to the post which appeared this morning on the social media profiles of our player Cherif Traorè, Benetton Rugby takes this opportunity to emphasise that we have always condemned with the maximum force every form of racist expression and/or discrimination.
“These things have no part in our culture and do not represent our identity and values. We have always demonstrated this with our actions, not just our words, and we will continue to do so with rigour.
“This kind of behaviour has no place in sport and when faced with episodes of this nature, Benetton Rugby will always be on the side of respecting people, their culture, their ethnicity, their religion and their dignity.”
Related: Six Nations 2023 fixtures
The Italian rugby federation reiterated their support for a fully inclusive game free from racial discrimination but insisted they had full faith in Benetton’s commitment to the game’s values.
A statement read: “The FIR underlines our commitment to a game that is fully inclusive, welcoming and free from any form of racial discrimination.
“Racism, intolerance and every type of prejudice have no place — and must have no place — in sport and in civilised society.
“The FIR underlines its complete faith in the conduct of Benetton Rugby and in the club’s adherence to the fundamental values of the game.”
Traorè’s treatment was swiftly slammed online as “absolutely disgusting” and “abhorrent” while Benetton’s initial response was criticised for being “ very weak”, “totally inadequate” and “hopeless”.
After finding out about Traorè’s account of receiving a rotten banana, one Twitter user said: “I cannot believe what I am reading” while another commented: “It’s 2022…”
Munster player and Ireland international Simon Zebo called for the culprit in the Cherif Traorè rotten banana incident to be identified and sacked, saying: “Name and shame the s***bag. Should be out of a job.”
Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.