Maro Itoje on institutional racism and the Black Lives Matter movement
Premiership rugby resumes this weekend
Ahead of kick-off, England's players including Maro Itoje have united in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign.
"It's everyone's individual choice how they choose to mark their unity," Itoje told JOE.
"That being said, it's important as players that we unite and make a stand against racism. Racism is still an issue in society, so it's good that governing bodies are bringing attention to the cause."
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) August 12, 2020
Saracens star Itoje says that while he hasn't had negative experiences with the police, he is in the minority.
"Fortunately for myself, I haven't had negative experiences with the police. Unfortunately, I'm part of the minority instead of the majority.
"I have friends who've grown up in similar areas, who have completely different experiences with the police."
Itoje doesn't think institutionalised discrimination is limited to one particular sector.
"I think institutional racism operates in pretty much all the major institutions in the country.
"Whether you want to look at it in the criminal justice system, police, education... the stats prove it's there."
Five months on from the beginning of lockdown, Itoje thinks the government's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic has had its ups and downs.
"It's obviously not an easy thing to deal with.
"I would separate it into two parts: there's the economic handling of the Coronavirus, and then there's the social side of things."
The Saracens lock thinks economic matters have been handled far better than social issues.
"The government has borrowed a lot to try and keep the economy afloat. We've just gone into recession but that just shows you the scale of what the government has had to deal with."
With social matters, Itoje remains unimpressed.
"In terms of messaging and communication, I don't think that has been good.
"I think the government could have been a lot clearer. The guidelines on social distancing to this day aren't exactly clear."
In the midst of the pandemic, Itoje wanted to create something special for those on the frontline. He has collaborated with Adidas in designing a bespoke rugby boot that pays tribute to a select XV of key workers.
“They are the heartbeat that keeps this city and this country going during the darkest of times.” 💙@MaroItoje and @MissPix01 pay tribute to key workers with a bespoke pair of Kakari Z’s ahead of his return to rugby this weekend. 🎨#ReadyForSport pic.twitter.com/vSkgolZ6qb
— adidas UK (@adidasUK) August 14, 2020
"The pandemic has crippled the country economically, but it's also had huge public health ramifications," Itoje said.
"A lot of people have risked their lives to help the wider population, and I think they deserve all the credit for risking their lives. Many of them have even passed away."
He feels the role key workers play goes under-appreciated, with a Thursday night clap only going so far.
"It's definitely not enough," the 25-year-old says.
"Clapping and symbolic gestures are important, but it's not the most important thing. The most important thing is actually valuing them through their pay, healthcare packages and benefits."
Itoje will wear his newly-designed boots this weekend as Saracens resume league action away at Bristol. Despite having been relegated due to financial irregularities, the England man insists heads won't drop.
"We know that we can't gain any more points in the Premiership, so all of our motivation is internal.
"We want to give the best account of ourselves and we also have a quarter-final (Heineken Champions Cup) in which to do this."