Racially abused Fijian rugby player Peni Manumanuniliwa: 'All I want is for my voice to be heard'

Grant Matthew/stuff.co.nz

Canterbury Rugby's general manager community rugby Tim Gilkison said the suspension was at the serious end of the sanctions available to the committee.

A Canterbury rugby player who was racially abused said he has no animosity toward his abuser and "all I ever want is to be treated with respect on the rugby field."

In a statement, Peni Manumanuniliwa wrote, "All I want is for my voice to be heard and for something to be done about racial abuse on the playing field. I want this not only for myself but for every player in New Zealand. In the game I enjoy, we all want to be treated with respect.

"I play the game of rugby hard and fair, I love this game, and love the Southbridge Rugby Club. I was hurt and cannot understand why people would verbally abuse me or call me inappropriate names based on my nationality."

Fijian rugby player Peni Manumanuniliwa.

Fijian rugby player Peni Manumanuniliwa.

He acknowledged the Canterbury Rugby Football Union (CFRU) for dealing with the abuse "in a fair and transparent manner. I felt like I have been heard, and trust that racial abuse on the rugby field will be prevented in future." 

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His abuser will appeal his 46-week suspension handed down for racial abuse.

Waihora's Bronson Munro has been banned for 46 weeks.

Waihora's Bronson Munro has been banned for 46 weeks.

Waihora Rugby's Bronson Munro, who represented the South Island Maori rugby team for three years, was under investigation after he allegedly used a racial slur towards Southbridge's Manumanuniliwa.

The CFRU committee found Munro, 23, guilty of racial abuse on Wednesday night, handing down a 46-week suspension. Munro declined to comment when contacted.

Canterbury Rugby's general manager community rugby Tim Gilkison said the committee found Munro guilty of acts of statements that were discriminatory by reason of religion, race, sex or national or ethnic origin.

Munro was suspended from all rugby matches, including any on-field activities until May 31, 2017. Waihora Rugby Club was put on notice with respect to conduct by players and spectators at future rugby games.

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It was understood the remark was made in the Canterbury combined country rugby final on June 11, after Manumanuniliwa was penalised for a high tackle.

Gilkison said the suspension was at the serious end of the sanctions available to the committee. 

"This sort of racial abuse is simply unacceptable, either in rugby or in society in general. We are committed to doing anything in our power to stamp out this sort of behaviour in our game, but we can only act when we receive a complaint.

"That is why we are encouraging all of those involved in the game to come forward, as Southbridge Rugby Club did, when such behaviour is witnessed. That complaint has allowed us to reach the outcome that we have."

Witnesses from both clubs, including spectators, were made to sign a confidentiality agreement that they would not talk to media until after the decision was made. 

In a statement, Waihora Rugby said Bronson denied the allegation and continued to deny it.

"Both the Waihora RFC and Bronson are disappointed in the decision of the Judicial Committee," it said.

"It is very disappointing from a club perspective to see years of hard work being decimated by this decision." 

The club had "zero tolerance" for any form of racial abuse, and all players were encouraged to play rugby in the spirit of good sportsmanship, the statement said. 

An appeal would be made after a written verdict had been handed down by the CRFU, the club said.

Southbridge Rugby spokesman Harry Romana said the club was pleased with the outcome.

"Peni Manumanuniliwa is a good man, he's a good person and we've got a lot of respect for him as a person, as a player and as a father.

"I believe that all reasonable people will understand that these sorts of issues are just inappropriate on the rugby field."

Manumanuniliwa said last year he was frequently the target of racial hatred on the field and prayed before every game that he would not be abused.

He spoke out after allegations of racism at a division one country rugby game last year.

He moved to Southbridge, in rural Canterbury, in 2007 and said he cried after repeatedly facing insults.

"I have heard it every week. It's really tough when you are playing rugby and they call you these kind of things," Manumanuniliwa said last year.

"I pray on a Saturday morning before the game – I pray to God to help us with this kind of thing."

Fijian rugby player Sake Aca was racially abused at the Canterbury Metro final last year. 

Police identified and spoke to his abuser. He wrote a letter of apology to Aca, who did not want the man charged.

Cases of rugby players being banned for such a lengthy period are rare.

World Rugby's sanctions for foul play under regulation 17 (law 10.4m) states that verbal abuse of any player based on creed, religion, race or ethnic origin can result in a maximum ban of 52 weeks. The lower-end entry point starts at four weeks, the mid-range is listed at eight and the top-end is 16 weeks and over.

In April, England prop Joe Marler was banned for two weeks and fined 20,000 pounds for calling Welsh bookend Samson Lee "Gypsy Boy". Marler escaped censure by the Six Nations organisers but when the incident was investigated by World Rugby and he was later sanctioned.

One of the grubbiest acts in rugby is eye-gouging and Dylan Hartley, the Kiwi born-and-raised hooker who is now England captain, received a 26-week ban in 2006 after being found guilty of attacking the eyes of an opponent in an English Premiership club match.

James Haskell, now a teammate of Hartley's in the England national side, was the victim on that occasion but has since said he didn't bear a grudge against the abrasive front rower.

Former Springboks loose forward Schalk Burger was banned for eight weeks for eye-gouging Luke Fitzgerald in a test match against the British and Irish Lions in 2009.

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 - Stuff


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