Rugby Pro Suspended for Groping His Opponent’s Genitals

"Out of the context of sport and as a bit of banter it obviously isn't funny."

Fair or foul?

Joe Marler, an English rugby union player, has been penalized with a 10-week ban for grabbing competitor Alun Wyn Jones’ crotch last weekend during their Six Nations Championship win over Wales, BBC reports.

The offending grope was seen during the live broadcast and clearly photographed.

Charlotte Wilson/Offside via Getty Images

The minimum suspension under World Rugby rules for “grabbing, twisting or squeezing the genitals” is 12 weeks. The disciplinary ruling commission reduced that by three weeks, taking into account mitigating factors like Marler’s good character and remorse, but then increased it by one week because of the 29-year-old rugby prop’s recent disciplinary record. Most matches have been postponed due to coronavirus concerns.

“If you know Joe and you’ve played with him or spent a lot of time with him, you know he hasn’t done it in a malicious way,” teammate Danny Care told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast. “You know he hasn’t gone out there to annoy anyone or anger anyone or disrespect anyone. He’s done it in Joe’s way of being Joe.”

“When I saw it, I just thought it was two lads messing around who were good mates but I can completely understand the massively split reaction,” Care continued. “Out of the context of sport and as a bit of banter it obviously isn’t funny. You put that in any other place of work and there’s going to be some serious repercussions from it.”

“I think anyone involved in rugby, things like that are seen as a joke. It’s seen as a bit of banter. I don’t see an awful lot wrong with it.”

Wales coach Wayne Pivac, however, believes Marler’s behavior sets a bad example. “There’s no place for that in the game,” he said. “We’re all role models for the young players and the next generation of the game, and there are rules in the game. You can’t go outside those rules. If you do, then you face punishment.”

“If I react, I get a red card,” Jones told reporters during a post-match press conference. “It’s tough, isn’t it? Hopefully World Rugby have a look at it.”

“Joe’s a good bloke, lots of things happen on a rugby field,” the Welsh captain continued. “It’s difficult as a captain these days because you can’t speak to a ref about anything, it feels. I look at the touch judge. Obviously he didn’t see what happened, and that’s fine. There’s a lot of footage that has been shown. It seems like a lot of supporters saw what happened.”

Former Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas, who came out publicly as gay in 2009 and retired from the sport in 2011, joked about the incident as a commentator for ITV Sport: “It would never have happened in my day and I’m really upset about that because if it had I would have never retired!”

“To the VERY small minority of people who were offended by my comment yesterday I apologise,” Thomas later tweeted. “I tried to find humour in a situation—that doesn’t mean I condone it, it means I wanted it to not be an issue. So don’t change the narrative to justify how you feel. Be kind.”

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