Cross-code rugby union and league star opens up on racist abuse and “uncomfortable” period of life

IT’S 2023 yet there are still many people suffering discrimination throughout the world.

Even in a sporting environment, in recent weeks, the likes of footballers Romelu Lukaku and Vinicius Junior have been subject to disgusting racism.

In both rugby league and rugby league union, thankfully, such issues are incredibly rare but former Super League and 15-man code star Luther Burrell, that nightmare has become a reality in recent years.

Burrell, who played eight games for Warrington Wolves in 2019 and 2020, but most famously made his name in rugby union for the likes of Northampton Saints and Leeds Carnegie, has opened up on his experience that has seen him ostracised from the 15-man code.

“It was difficult, any person that has suffered any sort of racial abuse or that has been undermined for their identity or diversity etc will struggle with that especially within a sporting environment. You give so much to the industry and hope for more,” Burrell told League Express.

“It’s been somewhat of an uncomfortable period of my life, the likelihood is I won’t play rugby again. It definitely has had a negative impact on my rugby-playing status.

“The thing with this issue is is it is very complex and you never know what it is influenced by. There are so many factors, whether it be social, economic, cultural or historical factors, misinformation and lack of exposure, you just don’t know. Fear has been historically causing problems.”

In early April, an independent investigation concluded that the 35-year-old was the victim of racial abuse during his time at Newcastle Falcons, but Burrell is content with retiring from both codes after not being offered a new deal.

“It’s something I’m really passionate about to speak about on my platform. We should be able to speak without having the witch-hunts.

“It isn’t about retribution, it is more about having an impact and telling my story because I know things have happened. I’ve seen it through my career and spoken to many people in different sports that have experienced something similar.

“This shouldn’t be happening full stop but it does. I understand that when people are still under contracts and have to provide for their families, worrying about your future, are you then going to go against the status quo and say ‘this is what is going on’.

“It is very difficult I understand that, it took me until the end of my career to say ‘enough is enough’ and put my neck on the line.”

Burrell does think that Super League’s increasingly budding relationship with the Muslim community with the Muslim Charter being signed by most professional rugby league clubs is a great way forward.

“The Super League has opened their doors to the Muslim community and they’ve got a relationship going there with the charities which is great. I think this is fantastic and is what the game needs.

“You talk about rugby being a barbaric sport with gentlemen playing, but it’s for all shapes and sizes. The way to make it as safe as possible, we need to make sure these situations are prevented.

“The last thing you want to do in anything like this is being reactive, you need to be proactive and be ahead of the curve. They should be implementing things anyway to essentially eradicate it and that’s my stance.”

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