World Rugby has launched an investigation into allegations that England’s Tom Curry was called a “white cunt” by South Africa’s Bongi Mbonambi during last weekend’s World Cup semi-final following an official complaint by the Rugby Football Union.
The global governing body confirmed that it was “formally reviewing the allegation” which could be heard on the referee Ben O’Keeffe’s microphone during the Springboks’ one-point victory. It is understood that the RFU took the decision to formally lodge a complaint on Sunday and “requested [World Rugby] investigate”.
Curry can clearly be heard on a recording via O’Keeffe’s microphone in conversation with the official in the 24th minute of the match. He said:
“Sir, sir, if their hooker calls me a white cunt what do I do?” The New Zealander responded by saying:
“Nothing please.” He goes on to add, after a short pause:
“I’ll be on it,” though it is unclear if he is referring to the specific incident.
“World Rugby takes any allegations of discriminatory conduct extremely seriously,” a statement read. “We can confirm that we are formally investigating allegations made by England’s Tom Curry regarding the use of discriminatory language during the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final between England and South Africa , SATURDAY.”
World Rugby is currently in the stage of gathering all available audio and video evidence and it is understood that the governing body hopes to quickly determine whether there are grounds for disciplinary action. If action is finally taken against Mbonambi, South Africa may be without their only professional prostitute for Saturday’s World Cup final against the All Blacks.
On Monday, South Africa coach Daan Human refused to comment on the alleged incident and would not say whether he believed Mbonambi had committed a racist insult, but instead said protect the character of prostitutes. The Springboks said on Sunday they would conduct their own investigation and it is understood to be continuing alongside World Rugby.
“He’s a great character,” said Human. “He’s down to earth, a very humble guy. He’s definitely a guy I would love to have in my team, in our team. That’s it, all I can say about him is he’s a great guy. I know his kids, my kids always look after his kids when they come to the hotel. He is very realistic like other players. He is a very calm guy who expresses himself very well.
South African second row Jean Kleyn added:
“Bongi is a great guy. I’ve known him since we played together at the Stormers nine years ago. He’s a great guy. He is a good individual. Honestly, I can’t comment on that and I don’t justify it, but all I will say is that he’s a great guy. He is an honest guy. I don’t think there’s any player on the team who doesn’t like him.
Curry appeared angry after the game. When asked if Mbonambi said anything to him, he replied:
“Yes”. Pressed on what he said, he refused to answer but asked if the matter had been resolved at the end of the match – Curry appeared to shake Mbonambi’s hand but the South African appeared to push his hand away – he said more :
” No, there’s no need to talk about that, I won’t talk about that now.
If World Rugby decides to take disciplinary action, Mbonambi could face a suspension under Rule 9.12 which states that players cannot insult anyone. World Rugby regulations prohibit abuse based on, but not limited to, “religion, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation”.
New Zealand defense coach Scott McLeod believes it will be a blow to South Africa if Mbonambi, who acts as the team’s vice-captain, is not available for Saturday’s final. “If anything happens, it will be a big blow to them,” McLeod said. “He is their team leader. When Siya [Kolisi, South Africa’s captain] left, he became captain so I imagine that will have an impact on them.
The Prime Minister also waded into the controversy, with Rishi Sunak’s spokesman saying it was “really an issue that needs to be considered by World Rugby and we are awaiting a response”.