Wakefield Trinity owner Michael Carter has categorically refuted allegations of racism following his players’ well-publicised decision to collectively not take a knee, insisting they did so to support a team-mate whose religious beliefs prohibited him from making the stance.
While the majority of Wigan’s team knelt in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Trinity’s players linked arms and stood side-by-side prior to their first game back after lockdown last weekend. It was a stance they repeated again on Saturday against Catalans Dragons.
That attracted criticism from some quarters, suggesting Trinity were actively anti-BLM and supporting racism – but Carter told League Express that could not be further from the truth.
He said: “I need to reiterate that this club is 100 per cent against any form of racism whatsoever. It is not tolerated at this club: we have banned fans for life for racist chanting. There is a zero-tolerance approach here and not once in my seven years here have I had a player come to me complaining of racism.
“We’ve got a player who is adamant that his religion doesn’t allow him to kneel for anyone but God. I didn’t feel that was open to question, I took it on face value. You could see during the week he wasn’t himself and I spoke to him privately and he had major concerns about the reaction that Israel Folau had received, to the point where he was actively thinking about standing down.
“I spoke with the senior group and said whatever this player did, I would support him 100 per cent. If that meant standing with him personally, I would do that. The players then came up with the idea of showing unity, linking arms and standing shoulder-to-shoulder, so none of them were put in the spotlight of being the only one who didn’t.”
Carter continued: “We released a statement pre-game showing that we endorse the BLM message and were totally against any form of racism and all for equality. I don’t think that message could have been any clearer before the game. There were eight non-white British players in our line-up who stood shoulder-to-shoulder against racism. How anyone can conceive that as condoning racist views is beyond me.”
Carter insisted the reaction he had received from some people in the Rugby Football League was encouraging, but he complained of a lack of support from other areas.
He said: “I can’t stop what people think who are looking in from the outside. If they don’t see the message we were sending, then I can’t resolve that. It’s been tough and disappointing, the reaction we’ve had from certain people. The lack of support from certain quarters has been disappointing too.
“But I can’t speak highly enough of Carl Hall and Steve McCormack from the RFL. They agreed with everything we’d done. We’ve had a chat with Alex Simmons too, who led a diversity talk with the players last week and agreed the stance we took was a stand against racism.
“Some people have got an agenda with racism and want to use that agenda to cause havoc. Education must never stop on this issue. We will back any campaign that comes off the back of this and will support it until racism in Rugby League is eradicated.
“Would people prefer us to ostracise one player and leave him to his own devices because of his religious beliefs? I could have told those who wanted to, to take the knee and left one lad out on his own, but that isn’t our stance. We took a brave decision and a brave option and we shouldn’t castigated because of it.
“I’m not embarrassed to say that there were a few tears last week talking to a few people. I think I’m mentally strong, but I struggled with being accused of racism and Wakefield Trinity being labelled a racist club. That is categorically untrue.”
Trinity were supported in their stance last week by one of their most longstanding supporters, the former Wakefield MP David Hinchliffe.
“As a supporter of the club for more than sixty years and a life-long anti-racist, I feel Wakefield Trinity were absolutely right to leave it to their players to determine their actions on Sunday and let players like Reece Lyne – from a BAME background – explain their stance,” said Hinchliffe.
“The statement issued by Trinity before Sunday’s match made totally clear the club’s strong opposition to racism.
“Rugby League has the finest record of any British sport for inclusivity and, as a consequence, I felt deeply uncomfortable watching what were clearly contrived scenes for the broadcasters ahead of the match on Sunday and the previous ones. Black Lives Matter is a fundamentally important movement which has drawn long-overdue attention to appalling injustices. Its aims should be strongly supported, but that support should be genuine, spontaneous, and not what appeared to me almost as tokenism organised for the cameras.
“I appreciate that my support for Wakefield Trinity at this time will result in accusations of racism. Perhaps those doing so might reflect on the fact that my own campaigning for equality in the past, as Wakefield’s MP, led to my being subject to death threats on several occasions and I, my wife and children having, as a consequence, to live with emergency alarms in our Wakefield home linked to the local police station. There are clearly differing views on this matter which, I hope, can be discussed in a reasonable and amicable manner.”
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