The Italy prop Ivan Nemer has been suspended until 30 June after giving Benetton teammate Cherif Traorè a rotten banana during the club’s secret Santa gift exchange.
The Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) said the sanction was imposed on the 11-time capped Nemer by the Federal Court and was in compliance with both its own regulations and World Rugby Rule 18.
A FIR statement said: “In defining the sanction, the Federal Court, in accepting the request for a plea bargain, took into consideration Nemer’s desire to shed full clarity on what happened, the regret represented towards his partner, the recognition of the shame caused by his behaviour to the image of the Benetton Rugby franchise, of Italian rugby and of the game in general, as well as the exemplary behaviour always maintained by the athlete on and off the field during his career.”
Nemer, who has decided not to appeal, must also complete an awareness course and coach in an FIR scheme helping asylum seekers play rugby.
Guinea-born Traorè, who has won 16 Italy caps including during the 2022 Six Nations, outlined in an Instagram post last month what he described as an “offensive gesture”.
The 28-year-old added in the post, which has since been deleted: “What hurt me most was seeing most of my mates present laughing. As if everything is normal.”
Argentina-born Nemer, who represented Los Pumas at Under-20 level before switching allegiance to Italy, released a statement after his ban was confirmed. “Racism has not and will never have any role in my life, just as it shouldn’t have in the life of any of us,” said the 24-year-old. “I am deeply sorry for what happened, for the stupidity of my gesture, for the displeasure caused to a friend, for having caused damage to my team, my teammates, the country I represent and the game I love.
“I come from a multicultural country like Argentina, where cultures have been mixing for over a century, and I’ve always shared the locker room and the field with teammates and friends from all over the world.
“What happened does not represent me, but at the same time it must make me and make us reflect on how much more needs to be done to change our culture, overcome the most blatant stereotypes, bring us closer to each other even more than is already happening.
“I accept the disqualification and the reintegration process with serenity but above all I trust, in the months and years to come, that I will be able to contribute with my testimony to making more and more young rugby players aware of issues that must be addressed and understood to improve not only our sport, but the world we live in.”
The FIR said that, through agreement with Benetton, Nemer will “actively participate as a specialist in the scrum ordered by the FIR Migrants Project” and take part in a training course raising awareness on integration issues, “which will be specially identified for him”.
“The athlete’s future involvement in the international FIR activity is subject to permanent participation and the subsequent successful completion of the training and awareness-raising process, which must be certified by the organizing body,” the Federation added.