Samoa centre Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu was given a six-month suspended ban from rugby on Sunday after accusing Welsh referee Nigel Owens of racism and bias following the Pacific islanders’ World Cup exit.
Fuimaono Sapolu, who made a number of controversial Twitter posts during the tournament, took to the social networking site again following a 13-5 defeat by defending champions South Africa last month to slam the performance of Owens, whose Facebook page was littered with abusive comments after the match.
“I can understand the hate!! Haha good luck u racist biased prick,” tweeted the 30-year-old Fuimaono Sapolu. “Get SA [South Africa] into next round. The plan was obvious. Can’t wait 2 meet irb [International Rugby Board] members in public.”
A reconvened disciplinary hearing on Sunday — which earlier this month provisionally banned Fuimaono Sapolu from all rugby — dismissed the player’s accusations against Owens.
It said the midfielder would have his six-month ban, which is suspended for two years, activated unless he offered a “full and unconditional apology to Nigel Owens and unconditional retraction of any criticism of him,” attended a minimum of 100 hours rugby community work in Samoa within the next 12 months and also attended and passed a recognised referee course within the next three months.
“If the player fails to comply with any of the above conditions or makes any public criticism which results in a proven misconduct offence regarding a match official, the IRB or the disciplinary process, the six-month playing suspension will be activated immediately,” said an IRB statement released Sunday.
Independent judicial officer Jeff Blackett of England, who heard Sapolu’s case, ruled the comments about Owens “impugn his integrity and reputation both as a referee and as a man”.
And Blackett, who labelled the player’s behaviour towards Owens “offensive”, insisted there was “absolutely no evidence the referee was biased in the sense that he deliberately favoured one side or the other”.
“To suggest that Nigel Owens is racist against Samoans is also completely inappropriate,” Blackett said.
Ealier in the tournament, after Samoa’s defeat by Wales, Fuimaono Sapolu, who plays for English Premiership side Gloucester, took to Twitter to accuse World Cup organisers of “slavery” and a “holocaust” for the way teams such as his had to play twice in four days while the Welsh had a week off between matches.
He later defended his reference to the Holocaust by saying the scheduling too was an example of one group of people “thinking they’re more superior and they can do whatever they want to another group”.
“So there’s a parallel there, albeit a very small one,” he explained.
Fuimaono Sapolu has a right of appeal within 36 hours of notification of Blackett’s written decision. — AFP