Italian rugby club suspend player over racist Christmas present

Cherif Traore has made 15 appearances for Italy. Tullio Puglia - Federugby/Getty Images

Benetton Treviso rugby club said on Thursday they had suspended one of their players after a Black team member revealed he had received a banana as a Christmas gift from a teammate.

Cherif Traore, who represents Italy at national level, wrote on Instagram on Wednesday that some players had laughed when he opened the present. He later said he had accepted an apology for what happened.

The club issued two statements on the issue on Wednesday, but made no suggestion they planned to investigate the incident or take action against the player responsible.

In a change of tone on Thursday, they issued a third statement saying the national sports prosecutors' office would look into what had happened "in order to protect the founding values and reputation of the game."

"At the same time, Benetton Rugby has decided to suspend as a precautionary measure, for the entire duration of the investigations by the prosecutors, one of its own players," the statement said.

They did not name the player.

Benetton Treviso said it would be up to federal investigators to impose any sporting or administrative sanctions.

The United Rugby Championship (URC) released a statement asking Benetton Treviso for a "full report" into the incident.

"Racism and discrimination of any kind are abhorrent," the URC statement said.

"[It is] completely unacceptable in society and are utterly counter to the values of the sport of rugby and the United Rugby Championship."

The URC said it had been contact with Benetton Rugby, who have "been asked to provide a full report on what has occurred and what meaningful action will be taken as a result."

Traore was born in Guinea but has lived in Italy since the age of seven. He wrote on Instagram that he did not normally react to "racist jokes" in order not to make enemies.

"I decided not to keep quiet this time to ensure that episodes like this do not happen again," he said, adding that such behaviour would be "seriously condemned outside of Italy."

There have been numerous incidents of Black athletes in Italy suffering racist abuse.

In football, Black players are routinely jeered by fans, while in October Paola Egonu, a Black volleyball player, announced she was taking a break from the Italy national team following comments questioning her nationality.