It looks like England prop Joe Marler is not free and clear from ‘Gypsy-gate’ after all.
Joe Marler was accused of, has admitted to and then apologised for calling Wales forward Samson Lee “Gypsy boy” during England’s Six Nations victory over Wales on March 12th. A review by Six Nations organisers ruled that Marler would not face sanctions over the remark, which all parties concerned brushed off as banter, something said in the heat of the moment.
It now appears that World Rugby, the governing body for international rugby, has taken a dim view of this and has decided to formally investigate the incident, as reported by BBC Sport. In a statement by World Rugby, it stated that Marler’s remarks “amount to misconduct and/or breach” of World Rugby code of conduct.
Following the incident Marler was forthright with his apology to Samson Lee, who is from the travelling community. After the game, Marler was reprimanded by England coach Eddie Jones over the incident but no official actions were sanctioned.
Subsequently, campaigners from the travelling community were critical of Marler and called for a ban. In a statement, campaigners stuck to their guns.
“We stand by our belief that there is no place for the use of racist language in sport”.
For his part, Lee brushed off the incident, referring to the comment as ‘banter’, a position Wales coach Warren Gatland also took on the matter. Following public criticism Gatland issued an apology and echoed the statement made by campaigners.
World Rugby has stated that Marler’s case will be heard “as soon as practically possible” and there is now a real fear that sanctions will be placed on the influential prop, if more for setting a precedent than anything else.
This will certainly worry English Premiership side Harlequins as the business end of the domestic season is looming and they will not want to be without their international prop. Similarly for England, with a tour of Australia scheduled for June, any suspension for Marler will likely impact their squad selection and preparation.
The majority opinion is that World Rugby are right to investigate the incident. Marler’s comments, while ‘banter’, do have racist connotations and there is simply no place for it in rugby, nor any other sport.