sport news Maro Itoje condemns treatment of England footballers but warns his sport can't ...

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Maro Itoje has strongly condemned the racism endured by England footballers this week and warned that rugby cannot be complacent about the spectre of abuse.

Black players were subjected to disgraceful chants from the crowd when Gareth Southgate's team faced Bulgaria in a European Championship qualifier in Sofia on Monday night.

Itoje, England's second-row forward, was asked on Wednesday about the unsavoury events and the Saracens lock delivered a searing response. 'It's appalling,' he said.

England star Maro Itoje warned that rugby cannot be complacent about racism in the sport

England star Maro Itoje warned that rugby cannot be complacent about racism in the sport

'It's abysmal. You would think they wouldn't have to go through that. It sends a poor message about the game of football.

'It's a shame because it's such a beautiful game and it's being tarred by people with racist thoughts and racist minds.

'It's terrible that they have to experience that when they just want to go out and play the game they love.

'I'm very happy that, for the most part in rugby, there's a different climate and that kind of stuff doesn't happen.'

The oval-ball game is not entirely without blemish when it comes to racism. Itoje said that he did not feel he had been targeted for abuse, but added: 'I know of people who have in rugby, both in the professional game and in grass-roots rugby.

'Not for England. I know of players at the club - not necessarily in the Premiership but playing in different parts of the world. They reported it, but in rugby you don't have microphones everywhere so it's hard to prove.

'It's important never to just assume that this is a free zone from any form of discrimination.

England's black footballers were racially abused by Bulgaria fans on Monday night in Sofia

England's black footballers were racially abused by Bulgaria fans on Monday night in Sofia

'Rugby is probably - from the sports that I've seen - right up there in terms of integrity, respect and how they treat people. But I think it is important never to just assume it's always going to be that way. It is something we have to keep on top of.'

While there are official initiatives in football designed to tackle racism, in recent times the drive to identify and eradicate the problem has been led by individual players such as Raheem Sterling and various England team-mates who have suffered abuse.

Itoje admires their efforts

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