ROME (AP) — Benetton and Italy prop Ivan Nemer was suspended until the end of the season on Friday after giving a rotten banana to a Black teammate.
During a secret Santa exchange of gifts at a Benetton team dinner on Dec. 20, prop Cherif Traoré was presented with the rotten banana.
Traoré, who migrated from Guinea as a child and has represented Italy 15 times, posted about the incident on social media at the time, saying how upset he was, especially at the fact that most of his teammates laughed. They were all made to apologize to him days later.
It was revealed only on Friday who gave the banana to Traoré, when the Italian Rugby Federation announced Nemer was suspended until June 30. It also said he will miss the upcoming Six Nations and has given up his right to appeal.
“Racism has never had and will never have any role in my life, as it should never have in the life of each of us,” Nemer said in a statement he asked the federation to issue.
“I regret deeply what happened, the stupidity of my gesture, the upset it caused to a friend, the fact that I caused damage to my team, to my teammates, to the country I represent and the game I love.”
Nemer will also have to attend a training and awareness program and his future involvement with the national team depends on how well he performs in it.
The 24-year-old Nemer was born in Argentina and has made 11 appearances for Italy.
“I come from a multicultural country like Argentina, where cultures have been mixing for over a century and I have always shared the dressing room and the field with teammates and friends that come from all over the world,” Nemer added. “What happened doesn’t represent me, but at the same time it should make me reflect on what still has to be done to change our culture, overcoming the most vulgar stereotypes.
“I accept the suspension and the path of reintegration with calmness but above all I’m confident that in the upcoming months and years I can contribute with my experience to help young rugby players be more sensitive to these matters that should be faced and understood to make not only our sport better, but the world in which we live.”
Twelth-ranked Italy is coached by former All Black Kieran Crowley, who coached the Canada men from March 2008 to January 2016.
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The Associated Press