Ugo Monye wants more diversity at boardroom level after telling own abuse story

Ugo Monye has revealed the harrowing personal tale of suffering a racist assault when he was just two years old.

The former British and Irish Lion admitted he felt compelled to tell his story in calling for change in English rugby.

Monye has challenged rugby’s power brokers to usher in a new era of diversity at board level, not just on the pitch.

“I believe it’s my responsibility to tell my story,” the former England and Harlequins wing told BT Sport.

“I can’t speak on behalf of the black community, but I can tell my story. The first time that I encountered racism I was two.

“One summer my mum, she dropped me off at a nursery. My key worker, the lady that was looking after the nursery, she actually put out four cigarettes down my spine.

“It’s not something I’ve spoken about before because it’s obviously not very nice, but it’s important for people to try to understand.

“You’re two years old. It was directed at me for one sole reason, and that was because of my skin colour. Racism comes in so many different forms, overt, covert; some people call it ignorance.

“As much as I’m saying rugby has an issue with racism, I think it’s got a bigger issue with class.

“We’ve got a very successful game, the Gallagher Premiership, I think it’s the best competition in the world, our England team is thriving.

“But numbers are dwindling, participation levels in our game are going down. So how do we address that? How do we fix it? For me, we’ve got to take the elite part out of the game.

“I don’t necessarily think rugby has a massive race issue, I think it does in terms of representation.

Leicester Tigers v Cardiff Blues – European Challenge Cup – Pool Five – Welford Road
Leicester Tigers v Cardiff Blues – European Challenge Cup – Pool Five – Welford Road

“On the pitch, the England team, 30 per cent of that team comes from what we’d call BAME backgrounds; that’s incredible. But when you look at executive level, boardroom level; it’s just not there, we’re just not there. And I think that needs addressing.”

The Premiership returned on Friday night after the coronavirus shutdown, with England’s top-flight clubs choosing their own anti-racism messages.

Leicester and England prop Ellis Genge admitted he had no one to talk to about the racist abuse he suffered as a youngster rising through rugby’s ranks.

“I was abused quite a bit growing up playing on the track, rugby-wise,” said Genge. “I didn’t really have anyone to speak to, I actually didn’t have anyone to speak to about it at all.

“From my experiences when I was growing up, especially travelling to some of these clubs, these kids probably don’t go to school with any black kids, no black people in their family, Asian, anything.

“I wouldn’t say it was because these kids were genuinely racist, I’d say it was because I think it was just a bit of a shock for them to see anyone of any type of colour.

“It’s about opening up and having those conversations about whether or not you feel comfortable speaking about that to each other. Has the game opened up the doors for different minorities to be involved? I’d say not.”

Maro Itoje admitted seeing black players excel in rugby helped give him the confidence to chase a career in the sport.

The Saracens, England and Lions lock conceded the game has more to do to combat prejudice.

England v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium
England v Wales – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium

“Being a black person, a black man, is fundamental to my identity,” Itoje said.

“It’s helped me shape the way I view the world, it’s helped me understand myself, especially being a black person in England; you’re always one of the few in a predominantly white area.

“So you always stand out, even if you don’t want to. As a child, all you want to do is fit in. When you see someone who looks like you, when you see someone who you can draw a connection to, it makes you believe that ‘oh, I can do that too’.

“Rugby is a great sport and has a great culture, but it also needs to be vigilant. We need to be proactive in making sure that rugby is truly an inclusive sport.”