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Prominent Sydney rugby club cleared of links to fans accused of racially abusing rival players

Andrew Mathieson -

Racial abuse has reared its ugly head before the elite Shute Shield competition officially kicks-off after supporters of a prominent Sydney rugby union club were accused of the abhorrent offence following witness statements testifying fans at a match singled out a rival side's Polynesian players from a hill behind the fence.

Eastern Suburbs were soon after issued a breach notice last month for alleged contraventions of five sections of the Rugby Australia code of conduct.

While the Sydney Rugby Union found the offences were proven on Wednesday night, Eastern Suburbs was cleared themselves of association from the racism remarks that were said to be directed at West Harbour's players of predominantly Samoan and Tongan descent.

But the club was nonetheless instructed to educate and supervise its supporters after a judicial committee found that a number of West Harbour players were subject to racial abuse at the hearing.

The number of constant insults, slurs and threatening behaviour in the verbal tirade started in the second-grade preseason match and continued into the first grade on March 16.

The West Harbour club had reports not only from players and officials confirming, but also witnesses in the crowd to hearing the alleged racial abuse, who were also prepared to put their own name to the statements.

But Eastern Suburbs was also prepared to "refute all the allegations in the most strenuous terms" after the oldest district rugby club in the nation submitted separate statements from 11 other people to the investigation that took more than a month to resolve.

"The club undertook a thorough (internal) investigation, interviewing 12 people including a board member on the hill where it was alleged to have occurred, and found zero corroborating evidence," Eastern Suburbs president Dave Allen said in his report.

"I have been involved with the club for 25 years and have not once heard any racist language. The club prides itself on its inclusivity, with around half of first grade being of Polynesian descent, and our last two head coaches being Polynesian.

"Rest assured, if a spectator was found to have made a racist remark towards a player they would be permanently banned from the premises."

The club could have faced several penalties, including fines and/or loss of competition points if the breaches were proven. And they were proven.

But a lack of evidence has let the club, based out of the affluent Rose Bay suburb, not be handed a punishable sanction.

The judicial committee was to have said the testimony of Western Harbour's affected players was credible and that racial abuse did actually occur, but there was insufficient proof that the abuse had come from Eastern Suburbs supporters as alleged, so the breach could not be proven.

Sydney Rugby Union general manager, Peter Watkins released a media statement on Thursday to clarify the final position of the committee that ruled over the hearing.

"The committee found there was no breach under Rugby Australia's code of conduct against the club," Watkins said.

"However, there was an acknowledgment that although no breach was proven, or sanction imposed, the committee will record that the alleged behaviour occurred and that Eastern Suburbs are required to undertake further measures including education of players and supervision of spectators.

"Sydney Rugby Union maintains a zero-tolerance towards any anti-social behaviour."

West Harbour, who instigated the claims 39 days earlier, has the right to appeal the finding.


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