Sydney University Football Club is investigating an incident involving a Manly Marlins first-grade player who was allegedly subjected a to “disgusting” racist taunt during a Shute Shield match on Saturday.
The unsavoury incident, labelled by Sydney Rugby Union president David Begg as “completely unacceptable”, occurred during a Shute Shield fixture between Sydney University and Manly at Sydney University Football Ground.
Manly forward Brad Hemopo, a man of New Zealand heritage, is understood to have been warming up before coming onto the field as a bench player when a crowd member shouted a racist comment at him.
Fairfax Media understands Manly's team physio also heard the comment and tried to intervene. It is unclear whether multiple comments were made by the spectator or others in attendance.
Hemopo was extremely upset by the comment, so much so that he fired off a direct complaint via email to Sydney Universitys vice-chancellor Michael Spence.
SUFC has launched an investigation and is working with Manly officials to find out who made the derogatory comment.
“If we find out who it is, theyll be banned from coming to our games … thats not welcome,” a SUFC spokesperson said. “The club has been working with match-day officials, both clubs together, security and ground staff to try and investigate who it was. We take these situations seriously and that behaviour is not welcome.”
Hemopo came to Australia this season from New Zealand to take up an opportunity with the Marlins. He is a prodigious rugby player who has represented the Canterbury Knights, a feeder team to the Crusaders Super Rugby franchise, and once played a trial match with All Blacks stars Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Israel Dagg.
The incident occurred on the clubs 'Ladies Day', and according to witnesses, there were plenty of intoxicated onlookers watching the match that kicked off at 3pm.
On source told Fairfax Media the comment was “disgusting” and that the crowd member who uttered it had “picked the wrong person” to racially abuse.
Begg, who was president at Manly before becoming president of the SRU, was at the game but did not hear the comment.
“Any form of racial vilification is completely unacceptable in our game,” Begg said. “The fact someone would have been picked out, as I understand because of their skin colour, is not only unacceptable in Australia in 2018 but more so because that is not in rugbys charter.
“You would expect them [Sydney University] to act appropriately. If they dont, we may have to intervene.
“This person should not be welcome at their home games again.”
A University of Sydney spokeswoman said on Thursday night: "Racist, sexist or offensive language is not tolerated at the University of Sydney. The expectations for our staff, students and affiliates regarding their professional and personal conduct are clearly set out in the Universitys code of conduct. We take any allegations made about racist behaviour or language seriously.
"In this matter these allegations are currently being investigated by the Sydney University Football Club and we are awaiting their report."
Manly president Anthony Bergelin said the club was taking the allegations “very seriously”.
“Were here to support our player through this process and from that perspective [Sydney] University has taken a very professional approach and got on the front foot,” Bergelin said. “Its something that is disappointing and you wouldnt expect in a community-minded competition like the Shute Shield.
“Well just wait and see what outcomes come from their investigation and go from there.”
Rugby Australia is aware of the incident.
Hemopo, a well-liked figure at his club, shot to fame in 2014 after he tackled a streaker during an All Blacks and England Test.
His crash tackle on the streaker caused quite a stir, with some people saying he used excessive force.
Hemopo was supposed to be playing rugby that day but reportedly decided to take a shift as a security guard at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to make some extra money.
Tom Decent is a journalist with Fairfax Media.
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