Contepomi attacks racism as Matera controversy refuses to go away

World Rugby seeks update from ARU on action being taken against Argentina captain

With Garry Ringrose, James Lowe, James Ryan and Tadhg Furlong recovering and unlikely to play and Johnny Sexton, with his dead leg on a daily wait and see routine with Leinster, Felipe Contepomi may have had plenty to think about this week. Instead, distractions have swept across from Argentina.

The offensive tweets of current Argentinean captain Pablo Matera have not yet been sucked out of the news cycle and yesterday Contepomi, who in 2008 was handed the same team captaincy by coach Santiago Phelan following the retirement of scrumhalf August Pichot, stated his outright condemnations of racism and xenophobia.

Minutes later and unconnected, World Rugby issued a statement asking what the Argentinean Rugby Union (UAR) are actually doing about their captain’s transgressions.

“World Rugby is currently seeking a better understanding of the process being undertaken by the UAR and its status and looks forward to receiving a full update,” it said.

The 27-year-old flanker Matera was stripped of the captaincy last week after posts resurfaced from his Twitter account from 2011 and 2013. Along with Guido Petti and Santiago Socino, Matera was suspended for two weeks. The UAR issued a statement saying how it “forcefully rejects the discriminatory and xenophobic comments”.

Vile

The vile characterisations were directed at black people, Bolivians and Paraguayans, both of them countries that border Argentina. Matera referenced “a nice morning to go out and run over blacks” with his car. Petti called his maid a “primate”, and Socino said that although he “does not support Apartheid could we start differentiating regular buses from those with blacks with the music out loud?”

But within 48 hours, Matera was returned to the captaincy and all three players saw their suspensions lifted.

“I know Matera, in fact he had a troublesome youth in terms of some personal issues, in terms of family issues and maybe it wasn’t the best time when he wrote those things,” said Contepomi.

“The person he is now probably doesn’t reflect what he wrote on those days. It’s not an excuse. From what I have read – because I’m not in the camp I don’t know exactly what’s going on – but what I have read I think they have made themselves accountable. They didn’t deny what they wrote. They said yeah, we did it when we were young.

“I condemn totally anything coming from racism or xenophobic comments or whatever. Having said that, they were tweets from eight, nine years ago when these guys were youth. One thing for me that is important to understand is rugby is a way to not only to make better player but more so help you to be a better person.”

But the wider reaction has taken a twist, when Ugo Monye made it bigger than simply about the three players and the almost permissive reaction of the UAR so soon after Argentina, led by Matera, had beaten the All Blacks for the first time in their history.

“Rugby wants to combat racism, until it has to combat racism,” said Monye. “Where is World Rugby in all of this? The message it sends to someone like me is that you don’t care enough.”

In speaking out the former England winger, who is black, has helped ensure it will not be treated as a domestic issue. He has argued against the messaging that the Argentina players were impudent and immature when they made the Tweets, halting the effect of turning the theme towards stupid young men rather than obscene racist commentary.

Alarm bells

Reinstating the players after 48 hours also rang the alarm bells. The message was simple. If the world would kindly look away for a moment this would all blow over. That has not happened.

“It is good to see that rugby played a part in informing them, making them better persons,” added the Leinster coach. “Having said that, if that had been written a year ago or this year . . . the things they wrote are not acceptable. Full stop. For me I won’t accept any sort of racism or xenophobic comments in rugby at all.

“If it [reinstatement] is 24 hours or two weeks later, that’s a process that I haven’t been involved in so I don’t know what’s been going on and why they reinstated them, or, suspended them in the first place. So I can’t comment on what is going on internally.

“But yeah, I understand where Ugo is coming from, because I would be in the same boat in terms of I don’t accept racism. I wouldn’t put it in terms of time, just to make that clear, because it’s a tricky question. It’s more about fairness or justice.”

That’s what the UAR will now decide, what’s fair and what’s just and how serious they and World Rugby will chose to be when the world is watching.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times