England rugby union ‘deeply disappointed’ with Mbonambi investigation outcome, while Kolisi offers Curry support
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) released a scathing statement after claims of a racial slur by Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi were dismissed by World Rugby for 'insufficient evidence'.
Despite finding no evidence supporting Tom Curry’s claim of a racial remark by Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi and World Rugby’s decision to drop the investigation, the matter will not go away.
The RFU, England’s governing body, were furious at the outcome and issued a critical statement on Thursday 26 October, confirming that Curry believes he had also been racially abused when the sides met in November 2022.
“[This outcome has] denied the disciplinary process the opportunity to hear Tom Curry’s voice,” the RFU’s statement read.
The South African Rugby Union (Saru) would not be drawn on the RFU stance but did say in a statement:
“Bongi Mbonambi is an experienced, respected and decorated Test player and, needless to say, denied the allegations from the outset. SA Rugby has absolute faith in the honesty and integrity of Bongi.
“Saru has noted World Rugby’s announcement concerning their investigation into an incident arising from the Rugby World Cup semi-final and welcomes the decision that no further action will be taken.
“Any form of racism is abhorrent to SA Rugby and the Springbok team, whose purpose is to do everything in its power to assist in uniting our diverse and multicultural nation.”
Curry and his family have been the object of online abuse.
On the point of online abuse, Springbok captain Siya Kolisi offered support to Curry, displaying his humanity and leadership.
“I have spoken to him, I sent him a message. He is someone I respect,” Kolisi told media at the announcement of the Springbok team to take on the All Blacks in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final at Stade de France.
“We can take it [criticism] as players, when it comes to us directly it’s fine. But when it comes to your family, it’s totally different and that’s exactly what he said to me.
“It’s the one part of the game we really don’t enjoy. I hope obviously it stops and he was able to prepare as much as he could for the game that he’s playing tomorrow.
“I have let him know we are supporting him, we are thinking of him.”
The conciliatory tone was a far cry from the RFU’s statement.
World Rugby confirmed that there is “insufficient evidence” to pursue a case of the alleged use of “discriminatory language” by Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi against England’s Tom Curry. But England is unhappy.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Insufficient evidence’ – Bok hooker Bongi Mbonambi cleared in racial slur saga
The incident allegedly happened during last weekend’s semifinal after the flanker approached referee Ben O’Keeffe in the first half of the encounter and accused Mbonambi of using a racial slur.
“Having considered all the available evidence, including match footage, audio and evidence from both teams, the governing body has determined that there is insufficient evidence at this time to proceed with charges. Therefore, the matter is deemed closed unless additional evidence comes to light.”
The RFU though, appears to have decided that Mbonambi is guilty, despite an evidence-gathering process by World Rugby, which didn’t reveal sufficient evidence to take the matter further.
The RFU is backing their man and continues to imply that Mbonambi committed a racial slur. It appears they may have evidence of an alleged 2022 slur and are trying to use it to create precedent for the alleged incident at Stade de France last weekend.
It’s almost reached the realms of science fiction now as there are many plausible reasons why Curry might believe he heard the words “white c…”.
Mbonambi’s character abuse
While the online abuse Curry and his family have endured is abhorrent, at least in British media, there seems to be no concern for Mbonambi’s character, and the abuse he has suffered.
The RFU stated: “The RFU fully support Tom Curry in raising the racially abusive behaviour he experienced whilst playing for England against South Africa,” it said in a statement.
“During the match between England and South Africa on Saturday 21st October 2023, Tom Curry reported to the referee that he has been racially abused by Mbongeni Mbonambi.
“The subsequent World Rugby investigation were informed by Tom Curry that he had also been the victim of the same abuse, from the same player, in the Autumn Test 2022.
“World Rugby have today announced their decision not to bring charges in respect of either incident.
“The RFU are deeply disappointed by the decision taken by World Rugby. The decision not to put the evidence before an Independent Disciplinary Panel has denied the disciplinary process the opportunity to hear Tom Curry’s voice and to independently assess his account of these serious events, together with the other available evidence.
“In their continued full support of Tom, the RFU, together with the England Squad, condemn the disgusting abuse he and his family has received on social media as a result of his having had the courage to put unacceptable behaviour that has no place in society or on the rugby field, in the public eye.
“Abuse of any kind is not acceptable and goes against the core values of rugby. It is important that it is safe and acceptable for everyone involved in rugby union to raise concerns, and the RFU continue to encourage everyone to report any unacceptable behaviour in the game.”
In a clever bit of legal phrasing, the RFU’s statement does not confirm whether Curry ever answered questions as part of World Rugby’s investigation, but only that he will not have the chance to answer questions in a disciplinary hearing.
For clarity, Mbonambi was presented questions by the World Rugby investigations team and he answered them. The same courtesy was presumably extended to Curry.
Boks unaffected by situation
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber said the Bok players had been shielded from the situation in their build-up to Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final against the All Blacks at Stade de France.
Read more in Daily Maverick: RasNaber confound again as Boks go 7-1 for World Cup final against All Blacks
“We are fortunate in terms of support of a legal team and everybody who worked behind the scenes. We were shielded from it,” Nienaber said.
“Where we stay, we are almost in our own bubbles. For us it was business as usual and we focused on rugby and that was taken care of in the background.”
Mbonambi was named in the Springbok team for the final. The Boks have opted for a 7-1 split between forwards and backs on the bench. DM