Matera loses captaincy, among 3 players suspended by Pumas

Pablo Matera has been stripped of the captaincy of the Argentina national rugby team and suspended along with two teammates over historic social media posts which have been deemed “discriminatory and xenophobic.”

The suspensions were announced Tuesday after an emergency meeting of the Argentina Rugby Union, and further disciplinary action may be coming.

The sanctions were announced a day after backlash in Argentina for the low-key way the team responded to the death last week of soccer great Diego Maradona.

Matera became a national hero when he led the Argentina team to its first-ever win over the New Zealand All Blacks during the Tri-Nations series in Australia three weeks ago. Now he, veteran lock Guido Petti and hooker Santiago Socino will miss Los Pumas’ final Tri-Nations match against Australia in Sydney on Saturday as their suspensions begin.

The board of the Argentina union issued a statement saying it “repudiates the discriminatory and xenophobic comments published by members of the Los Pumas team on social networks.”

It said the board resolved to “first, revoke the captaincy of Pablo Matera and asked (the national team) staff to propose a new captain to the board.

"Second, order the suspension Pablo Matera, Guido Petti and Santiago Socino from the national team until resolving disciplinary actions.

"Third, open a disciplinary case to the three players mentioned, which will be handled by the disciplinary commission of the Argentine Rugby Union.”

The statement said social media posts were sent between 2011 and 2013 and “don’t represent the integrity as personas all three have shown through out this time with Los Pumas.”

But it said “the Argentine Rugby Union condemns all kinds of hate speech and consider unacceptable that those who conveyed them represent our country.”

The posts, mostly tweets, reportedly were aimed at Black people and Bolivian and Paraguayan domestic workers.

The 27-year-old Matera, who played his first international match in 2013, has closed his Twitter account and expressed regret over the messages on Instagram.

“Today I have to take (responsibility) for what I said nine years ago,” Matera said. “I am very ashamed. Apologies to all those who were offended by the atrocities I wrote. At that moment I did not imagine who I was going to become.

"I’m also sorry to my team and my family for the moment they are going through ... and thanks to the people who love me for their support.”

Socino added in a statement: “I want to apologize to those who I may have offended with what I said at the time, and what I absolutely repudiate. I never realized what it could cause, and I do not seek to justify it with the immaturity with which I handled myself.”

The Pumas have gone from stars to villains at home within weeks.

The players wore black armbands in the Tri-Nations test against the All Blacks, the only gesture they made after Maradona's death last Wednesday.

That tribute contrasted poorly with that of the New Zealanders, who offered a black jersey with the No. 10 and the last name Maradona on the back to the Argentina squad on the halfway line at the beginning of the traditional pre-match Haka last weekend.

The backlash forced the Argentine squad to make a public apology on Monday, before the controversial old social media posts emerged.

Matera had admitted that “the tribute we chose to pay Diego caused pain and disappointment in many people and we wanted to (say) that in no way was that our intention.”

“Diego was an extremely important person for us, he always supported us," Matera said, adding that “for Argentine athletes, Diego Maradona is the greatest thing there is and he marked us all.”

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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