Benetton Rugby find themselves mired in controversy in the leadup to Christmas, after prop Cherif Traore revealed the shocking present he received during the team's Secret Santa.
The Secret Santa gift-giving exercise saw an anonymous teammate gift Traore a "rotten banana." The Guinean-born prop shared the news to his social media, and called out the decision to gift him a banana.
Traore said that he had had to "get used" to racism "in order to try not to hate the people close to me."
The entire episode is simply dire, and Benetton's response has also gained a strong negative reaction.
The Italian team published a video message from Traore on Wednesday evening, with the caption:
How many times does it happen to make a mistake or offend a member of one's family, many. Well, this time it happened inside ours. Now what matters is having understood the mistake and apologizing. We are a family and as such we will move forward, together, always.
Naturally, the insinuation that such an aggravated act was a "mistake" has not gone down well with the rugby public, and appears to be downplaying the issue of racism within rugby and, more specifically, the Benetton team.
England prop Ellis Genge took to Twitter to slam the video from Benetton.
Benetton controversy continues with video message on social media
In a tweet on Thursday morning, Genge said:
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.
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. https://t.co/FlMkzzF3U6
— Gengey (@EllisGenge) December 22, 2022
It's hard to argue with Genge, with strong action needed on behalf of Benetton to protect Traore. The fact that this gift was exchanged between teammates makes the entire episode even more shocking, and raises questions about the atmosphere in the dressing room. Traore noted in his now-deleted Instagram post that other teammates laughed along with the gift, in a dire development.
Yesterday, Munster and Ireland star Simon Zebo called for the strongest possible action against the perpetrator.
Name and shame the scumbag
Should be out of a job 🤬 pic.twitter.com/xWwcYX99xh
— Simon Zebo (@SimonZebo) December 21, 2022
Others among rugby have spoken out about the incident at Benetton, with Dragons wing Ashton Hewitt perhaps the most outspoken.
Hewitt, like Genge, retweeted Benetton's "apology" video, but with far more anger towards the position Traore had been put in by his club.
If one of my teammates gifted me a rotten banana as ‘banter’ for secret Santa, there would be scenes.
If my club then got me to do a video talking about apologies and all being family after the fact where other players were laughing along, it’s safe to say i’d lose my shit. https://t.co/sqggmKVkZ1
— Ashton Hewitt 🏴🇯🇲 (@ashton_hewitt) December 21, 2022
It remains to be seen how Benetton will ultimately handle this situation, but it's safe to say they will face more backlash if they do not come down hard on the perpetrators.