NRL stand by education of players after Leniu slur

Scott Bailey |

Roosters prop Spencer Leniu attending the NRL judiciary hearing which imposed a lengthy ban on him.
Roosters prop Spencer Leniu attending the NRL judiciary hearing which imposed a lengthy ban on him.

Chief executive Andrew Abdo has thrown his weight behind the NRL’s player-education program, after Sydney Roosters star Spencer Leniu pleaded ignorance over his slur against Brisbane’s Ezra Mam.

Leniu was on Monday banned for eight matches by the NRL judiciary, the panel rejecting the prop’s claim he was unaware “monkey” was a racial slur.

The suspension means Leniu will be able to return in round 10 against the Warriors – nine days after the Tricolours face Mam’s Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium on May 3.

During Monday’s 90-minute hearing at NRL headquarters, Leniu made several claims around the use of race-based language at clubs, delivered between players of colour.

It was in that context Leniu said he believed at the time his comment to Mam was simply “banter”. 

He was contacted by an Indigenous woman the morning after the Vegas game to explain the insult’s connotations.

Manly’s star Tonga representative Haumole Olakau’atu told reporters on Tuesday he had been called a “coconut” during games, but had not been offended by it.

He backed Leniu’s assertion around the “banter” engaged in across the NRL by players of colour, but described the Las Vegas incident as poor. 

The NRL remains confident its education process stands up.

The subject of racism is covered at rookie camp on a player’s induction to the NRL. They are also delivered lessons through Theatre Sport who act out acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Regular training is conducted at clubs in conjunction with the players’ union (RLPA), including guidance around cultural awareness.

Leniu’s slur made him the first player found guilty of such an offence in 15 years, suggesting such incidents are isolated within the NRL.

“There is no place for racism in rugby league or society,” Abdo told AAP. 

“Players undertake mandatory education and training throughout their careers in the NRL on this and a range of matters. 

“We work with the RLPA to ensure we have continuous improvement and best practice in the delivery of these important programs.”

Abdo’s comments come after the NRL counsel on Monday night, Lachlan Gyles, was adamant Leniu knew the connotation when telling Mam to “f*** up you monkey” during the round-one clash in Las Vegas.

“Most people who have been in Australia for 15 years would know it would ordinarily be racism to call someone a monkey,” Gyles said.

Ezra Mam
Broncos’ Ezra Mam (pictured) was “angry and disappointed” after being abused by Spencer Leniu. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

The Roosters have said they will put all players and club staff through additional training following the incident, but maintained Leniu was not racist.

“We’ll increase his education about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” CEO Joe Kelly said. 

“We’ll also be supporting all of our Indigenous players in the club. 

“And across the board, all staff and players will undergo further education of these cultures as well as the Pacific culture.”

Rugby league great Johnathan Thurston on Tuesday accused officials of failing to send a message with the eight-game ban.

The North Queensland and Indigenous legend called for a blanket half-season suspension for all instances of racial comments made by players.

“It was a great opportunity to go 12 weeks as a blanket ban for all racial vilification if you are found guilty,” Thurston said on Nine’s Today Show.

Greyhounds NSW on Tuesday sacked a contractor over a racist remark on a note about a dog named Ezra Mam.

An online form guide published on Monday read: “Go Bananas! Let’s see IF we can get some positive Headlines, tonight?”. 

A statement from Greyhounds NSW on the matter said: “GRNSW is appalled by what was published, and apologises unreservedly for the comment, and the distress it has caused”.

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