Benetton Rugby prop Ivan Nemer has been suspended until June 30 after giving Black teammate Cherif Traore a “rotten banana” as a Christmas present, the Italian Rugby Federation said on Friday.
The sanction was imposed based on investigations into what happened during a private lunch organised by the club’s players on Dec. 20.
“I deeply regret what happened, the stupidity of my gesture, the damage caused to a friend, the harm caused to my team, to my team mates, to the country I represent and to the game I love,” Nemer said in a statement.
“Racism does not and will never play any role in my life, just as it should not play any role in the lives of any of us,” the 24-year-old added.
In deciding on the sanction, the Federal Court took into account Nemer’s desire to clarify everything that happened, as the player also waived his right to appeal the sentence.
The Italian Rugby Federation, in agreement with Benetton Rugby, said that Nemer, capped 11 times by Italy, will actively participate as a scrum specialist in the FIR Migrantes Project and will simultaneously take part in a training and awareness course on integration issues in an independent structure.
The athlete’s future involvement in FIR’s international activity will depend on his participation in and subsequent successful completion of the training and awareness-raising course, which must be certified by the organising entity.
Traore was born in Guinea but has lived in Italy since the age of seven. He plays prop for the northern Treviso club and for the Italian national team.
Following the incident, Traore wrote on Instagram that he did not normally react to “racist jokes” so as not to make enemies.
He later said he had accepted an apology from the team for what happened.
There have been numerous incidents of Black athletes in Europe suffering racist insults.
Earlier this week, a mannequin wearing Real Madrid striker Vinicius Jr’s No. 20 shirt was hung from a bridge outside the club’s training centre before the Madrid derby.
In October last year, Paola Egonu, a Black volleyball player, announced she was taking a break from the Italy national team following comments questioning her nationality.