Saints issue statement after Burrell says racism is 'rife' in rugby union

CEO Mark Darbon says Saints are 'saddened and appalled' to hear that Luther Burrell has suffered racist abuse during his rugby career.

Luther Burrell
Luther Burrell

But Darbon has confirmed that he has received reassurances from Burrell that he did not encounter any such discrimination during his lengthy stay in Northampton.

Burrell recently spoke to the Daily Mail and in that interview he said racism is 'rife' in the sport and racist 'banter' has become 'normalised' among team-mates.

The former England centre was a key player for Saints between 2012 and 2019, helping the club to claim a memorable Premiership and Challenge Cup double in 2014.

“Everyone at Northampton Saints was saddened and appalled to read Luther Burrell’s comments published yesterday, detailing the racist abuse he has experienced during his playing career,” Darbon said.

“The club condemns all forms of discrimination, and yesterday reached out to Luther to offer our support and applaud his bravery in speaking out.

“We were reassured during our conversation that Luther did not experience any racial abuse during his time at Northampton Saints.

"The club will continue its ongoing work to make sure that Franklin’s Gardens remains an inclusive environment for all Northampton players, staff and supporters.

“We have invited Luther to return to Franklin’s Gardens in the coming months to contribute towards the Diversity and Inclusion projects already being delivered by the club’s community and commercial staff.

“Saints will welcome and support any wider action taken by the RFU and Premiership Rugby to improve education and awareness across Rugby Union, so that we can eradicate discrimination from our game.”

As well as playing for Saints, Burrell has also spent time at Leeds, Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons during his rugby union career.

He has won 15 England caps and has also played rugby league for Warrington Wolves.

In his interview with the Daily Mail, Burrell said: "Things are said in the changing room that shouldn't be said.

"A lot of it doesn't come from a bad place but that doesn't make it okay. This isn't a witch hunt and I don't want people to feel sorry for me.

"A lot of what's said isn't even malicious, but it's become normal and it needs to be addressed.

"My son and daughter, three and five, are mixed race. Would I be happy with them getting the same racial 'banter' from their friends? Of course not.

"There are numerous players in numerous environments who have experienced it. I could say nothing and carry on as normal, but it needs to be spoken about."

Burrell added: "Maybe it will empower the next generation to call it out and force change.

"It's a touchy subject and I'm scared how people will receive it, but in the grand scheme of things why should I care?

"It's factual. I love our sport and I want to see it move forwards."

Earlier on Monday, the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) released a statement on Burrell's comments.

It read: "We applaud Luther Burrell for his decision to talk out about the racism he has encountered during his playing career. We have spoken to him and he knows he has our full support moving forward.

"There is no place for the language used against Luther, and the attitudes that reveals, either in rugby or broader society.

"His honest revelations only highlight the game’s need for meaningful conversations and education on what positive inclusive cultures should be.

"As our players have consistently said, positive change only comes through open dialogue from top to bottom in organisations, including players and all other groups.

"There has clearly never been a better time for the education and data collection which will be rolled out across the men’s and women’s elite game in the coming season.

"If you have been affected or require support please contact your Development Manager (if an RPA member), or Mark Lambert ([email protected]). For 24/7 mental health support you can contact Cognacity on 01373 858080. The RFU also have a confidential Speak Up hotline via email: [email protected]"