SATURDAY’S Scottish Cup quarter-final clash between Currie Chieftains and Hawick will be the first time the two sides have met since an unsavoury incident marred a ferocious contest at Mansfield Park in the league at the start of December.
Hawick stalwart and former captain Bruce McNeil was subsequently cited by Currie Chieftains and handed an 11 week ban by an independent SRU disciplinary panel for racial abuse directed towards a Chieftains player, which was later reduced to 10 weeks on appeal.
Hawick have stood by the player, whilst stressing that they do not condone his behaviour. Club President Rory Bannerman said:
“We have taken on board the need for education about all forms of abuse, and indeed are setting up a workshop and presentation session with Show Racism the Red Card. We know that Bruce has taken this one-off but very serious incident to heart, and we will all work hard to repair the damage caused.
“Bruce has swiftly and fully apologised to the offended-against player, we have apologised to Currie Chieftains, and Bruce has taken his lengthy suspension after also apologising to the SRU discipline committee. The 11 weeks was appealed as in the first instance the committee were incorrect in their calculation of mitigation. There were other grounds, but these were dropped before the hearing commenced.
“We are satisfied that what Bruce did does not represent who Bruce really is. There is no place for racism in any part of society.”
The club also issued a statement on their website, which read:
“Bruce accepted his responsibility for one heat of the moment comment, made during the game. He recognises that such conduct is unacceptable. The club has known Bruce long enough to appreciate that this incident is out of character, however, we have a zero tolerance at HRFC of discrimination or abuse in any form.
“Equality for all is the club’s ethos. The club are working to educate all at HRFC on these important and serious matters.”
Chieftains, meanwhile, expressed their unhappiness with the situation in a pre-prepared statement:
“As the player concerned confessed to the offence, Currie Chieftains have had no role in the disciplinary hearing itself. From an emailed communication from the SRU on the 10th January 2020, our understanding is that the player cited was initially subjected to an 11-week suspension, but on appeal this has been reduced to 10 weeks.
“From a Currie Chieftains perspective, we were deeply upset that the offence that prompted our citing of the player happened in the first place. We were also disappointed that, after the player had admitted his guilt, the disciplinary sanction was appealed, and further that the appeal resulted in the sanction being reduced.
“We have not been advised as to the circumstances that led to that reduction and therefore cannot comment on the reasoning behind it. However, we are concerned that the appeal and its outcome may be regarded as equivocation in a clear incident of racial abuse in our sport.”
Worryingly, McNeil’s suspension has not been an isolated instance of racial abuse this season. At the start of September, Earlston’s Chris Shand received a five week suspension for racial abuse during a match against Lismore, whilst two unnamed Kirkcaldy Under-18s players also picked up five week bans for that same offence following a match against Allan Glen’s in late November.
The SRU issued a communication to all member clubs yesterday [Wednesday] in which it reminded them that “sport is an inclusive game, where we welcome everyone irrespective of race, gender or sexual orientation”.
The correspondence explained that:
“Our independent Discipline Panel has flagged some recent cases of racial abuse and we call on your help in halting such inexcusable incidents.
“Our game is open to everyone and any instances of racial abuse are completely unacceptable and not in line with our values. These incidents will not be tolerated and are a criminal offence.
“Should your club require any guidance or assistance to support this zero-tolerance approach, please let your Regional Rugby Development Director know.