Pablo Matera has been reinstated as the captain of the Argentinian national rugby team, after he and two others in the side were suspended for a number of racist comments made nine years ago. The suspension lasted only two days!

The background

Matera, who just three weeks ago became a cult hero in an inspiring Argentinian win over the All Blacks, was suspended on 1 December, after it came to light that in 2011 and 2012 he tweeted a number of xenophobic and racist tweets. The tweets included hateful comments about black people, as well as Bolivians and Paraguayans.

Screenshots of the racist and xenophobic tweets posted by Pablo Matera in 2012 and 2011. Captured leading Argentinian newspaper by La Nación.
Screenshots of the racist and xenophobic tweets posted by Pablo Matera in 2012 and 2011. Captured leading Argentinian newspaper by La Nación.

He was not alone, as Guido Petti and Santiago Socino were also found to have similar tweets and were subsequently suspended. All three of the players issued apologies on their social media accounts, however these apologies all come across as ‘sorry I was caught’, or ‘I was immature’, rather than to truly renounce the statements and offer to do better.

Some of the tweets, translated into English:
‘Bolivian man carries mp3 with ipod headphones. Sufficient evidence to imprison you for theft and loss of it.’
‘SOUTH AFRICA BABY! I’m finally leaving this country full of blacks … OUCH !!!’
‘If you don’t have a friend nicknamed Fat or Black, worry, YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS’
‘The hatred of Bolivians, Paraguayans, etc. is born from that maid who once lost a hair in your food’
‘Nice morning to go out in the car to step on blacks’

Now, just two days later, all three of the players are back in the squad, as if nothing had happened, with Unión Argentina de Rugby (UAR) citing the players’ apologies and good behaviour in the years since meant their suspensions could be lifted.

The statement, translated from Spanish, said the “preventive measures are unnecessary, so we have resolved to lift the suspension of the three players and reinstate the captaincy to Pablo Matera. The disciplinary process continues, and the commission will arrive at a final resolution in the next few days.”

All three players have also not been included in the Argentinian team for their match this weekend, in order to protect them from ‘receiving a lot of hate’ since the tweets came to light.

The message

This move from the UAR sends a clear message that they do not condemn racist and xenophobic behaviour in there squad. It is clear that they do not endorse it, but that is not enough. They need to actively fight these attitudes, and by failing to enforce some degree of suspension, they are saying that it is ok to hold these thoughts as a youngster.

I am not saying that a person cannot grow, and cannot learn from their mistakes, however the tone deaf statement from the UAR, stating the ‘preventive measures are unnecessary’ suggests that they are more concerned with the players rather than their attitudes.

Argentinian rugby had an opportunity here. An opportunity to help stamp out racism and xenophobia in Argentina and set a marker to the rest of the world. Not only have they missed this opportunity, they have actively gone in the other direction.

Again, these comments were made up to seven years ago, and all three of the players have apologised for the tweets, but they have not renounced the statements, rather suggesting that thy no longer hold those views. This suggests that they were happy to hold those views in 2012, and that feel that it is acceptable for young Argentinians to hold similar views before they mature.

While it might not be the intended message that the UAR want to send, it is the one that is ringing the loudest over everything else. All Argentina needed to do was to enforce a suspension of longer than just two days, and this might not have been the message.

As rugby writer Paul Williams suggested, “you could remove the captaincy. 3-month ban. Public facing anti-racism campaign so that the players and supporters understand the situation. Then go from there”.

Argentina, you could have done so much better. You should have done so much better.

Stephen Kisbey-Green – Co-Editor