TABUA Cakacaka had never encountered racism before moving to England but, after multiple formal complaints during his seven years in the country, he is not prepared to stay silent any longer.
Raised in Fiji, scouted to Australia at 17 and arriving at Gateshead Thunder via France in 2005, the giant forward was in his first UK season when York were fined for failing to prevent their fans from racially abusing him.
A second incident at Keighley produced a further fine for the same offence according to the Rugby Football League (RFL), although a subsequent complaint at Rochdale as recently as six months ago did not lead to any prosecutions.
“It is a disgrace, and I want people to know the truth,” said Cakacaka, adamant he seeks nothing more than to highlight the sport’s failure to eradicate racist language.
“I love the game, but I am just sick of all this. I was young when it first happened and I just let it go, but I was still hurt.
“Now I have two children to think of and for their sake I am not prepared to just sit and take it.
“I don’t want the game to keep going like this, because I love the game.
“Other sports have tried to stamp down on racism, but in rugby league it seems to be widely ignored.”
The game’s governing body beg to differ, however, and in a statement today said: “The RFL takes allegations of racism very seriously,” adding “all allegations are formally and thoroughly investigated.”
Cakacaka insisted: “I don’t mind a bit of sledging and I can give as good as I get, but when it crosses into racism and nothing is done then it is just too much to take.
“I am not seeking anything other than to shine a light on what has happened to me and how the game is run over here.
“Rugby league can never move forward if people in the headquarters behave like this.”
Outlining the first incident, he recalled: “I had scored a try in the last two minutes to draw at York in 2005 and when I ran back for the re-start someone in the crowd said ‘go back to where you come from, you black c***’, and ‘get back on your banana boat’.
“Other Gateshead players heard it, the RFL had one interview with me and that was it. I heard nothing at all.”
The RFL dispute this version of events and say news of both York and Keighley’s undisclosed fines were relayed to Gateshead Thunder in writing following an RFL investigation.
Outlining a third incident as recently as May this year, Cakacaka added: “The most disappointing thing about the latest time was it happened at Rochdale, which historically has very strong links with Fiji, who will be based there next year for the Rugby League World Cup.
“I had hoped to be part of that squad, but now I am not so sure.
“One of their players called me a ‘f****** black c***’ and then as play moved on another was yelling ‘go home, go home.’
“The referee was right next to it for the second part, and one of our players said to the referee ‘he can’t say that, you heard what he said’.
“All of this was in the written testimony I gave to the RFL.”
The RFL said in a statement issued to The Journal: “This allegation was investigated thoroughly by the RFL Compliance Department utilising the expertise of a professional investigator who spoke to Mr Cakacaka, the match officials and players from Gateshead Thunder and Rochdale Hornets.
“Following the investigation the matter was referred to an independent RFL Operational Rules Tribunal chaired by His Honour Peter Charlesworth, a recently-retired High Court Judge. Mr Cakacaka was invited to attend the tribunal to present his evidence but did not do so.
“Based on the evidence submitted, the tribunal found there was insufficient evidence for the complaint to be upheld.
“That decision was relayed to Mr Cakacaka by email, and the RFL made repeated attempts to contact him personally.”
Unsure if he can take any more, the player said: “I am considering going back to Australia because in the UK there are too many false promises.
“I have two kids now and that is why I am making a stand. It just seems like there is no system in place at all here to combat racism in rugby league.”
Cakacaka’s former club said in a statement: “Gateshead Thunder supported Tabua following his allegation he was verbally abused by Rochdale Hornets players in May and co-operated fully with the RFL investigation and subsequent Operational Rules Tribunal.
“The club’s previous owners also supported Tabua following his allegations he was racially abused by supporters at York and Keighley in 2005 and communicated the RFL’s findings to him.
“Gateshead Thunder are satisfied Tabua Cakacaka’s allegations were properly investigated and the player received a full and fair hearing from the RFL.
“We have always supported our players and wish Tabua and his family all the best for the future.”