WBO World Middleweight Champion Billy Joe Saunders has condemned England prop Joe Marler for calling Wales prop Samson Lee ‘gypsy boy’ after an altercation during their recent Six Nations match at Twickenham.
The Joe Marler–Samson Lee ‘gypsy boy’ saga could finally be resolved today after becoming one of rugby’s most high-profile disciplinary issues of modern times. Ten minutes into the England vs. Wales game Marler and Lee were involved in a scuffle after the hosts were award a penalty.
The words ‘hey gypsy boy’ were picked up on a microphone and provoked an initial public outcry on social media. Saunders, 26, hopes the media attention surrounding the incident will make people think twice before using the term in an offensive way.
Saunders, who is preparing for his big world title defence against Max Bursak on Saturday 30th April at the Copper Box Arena, told Victoria Derbyshire during an interview on BBC 2 today: “In our culture we’ve had this most of our lives. It’s not been so bad in the last few years. When you receive abuse on social media from Twitter and Facebook trolls it’s not so bad but when you receive it in sport it’s not acceptable.”
Undefeated Saunders dethroned Andy Lee last December at the Manchester Arena in the first all-gypsy world title showdown. Gypsy and traveller communities have long been a feature in the British boxing scene but Saunders says Marler’s comments may harm English rugby’s image.
“I’ve had it all my life but I’ve never had it in my sport from another sportsman. I was a fan of rugby and now I probably won’t watch England play rugby anymore,” said Saunders.
He added: “Now other people might think twice about using the term in an offensive way. There is no room for any racism is sport; especially at the standard that he is playing. I was talking about it on the phone to my friend Tyson Fury last night and we are both disgusted by it.”
England’s Marler, 25, says he is not a racist and has publicly apologised for using the term. The Harlequins prop faces a World Rugby disciplinary hearing today and says he will accept any punishment handed to him.
Hatfield man Saunders is all too familiar with the public scrutiny that comes with being a global sports star and believes those in the spotlight should always endeavour to set a shining example for young fans.
He said: “I think some people say things in the moment. Just because of the colour of your skin or your background it doesn’t mean you’re different to anyone else. We’re all human beings. Everybody makes mistakes but to do it on TV is a big game like that isn’t acceptable.”