Footballer Marcus Rashford and rugby player Maro Itoje have well and truly roasted Education Secretary Gavin Williamson after he mixed up the two sportsmen.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Williamson described how he had met Rashford – the Manchester United player who forced the Government into a U-turn on free school meals provision during the pandemic – over Zoom.
The MP said: “We met over Zoom and he seemed incredibly engaged, compassionate and charming but then he had to shoot off. I didn’t want to be the one that was holding him back from his training.”
Though this turned out not to be the case, at all. Later, Williamson’s team told the paper that he had actually met rugby player Itoje, who plays for Saracens and England.
For Rashford’s part, the footballer’s spokesperson confirmed to the publication that “he has never had any direct communication with Williamson.” They added: “Maro and Marcus are two incredibly successful young black men, but there is little more they have in common.” That’s Williamson told.
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Rashford himself had no hesitation in mocking Williamson over the gaffe.
“Accent could have been a giveaway,” Rashford joked with a laughing emoji (We should say here that the 23-year-old hails from Manchester while Itoje is from London).
Meanwhile, Itoje also took to Twitter to educate the Education Secretary and cracked a joke at his expense.
He tweeted: “Due to recent speculation I thought it was necessary to confirm that I am not Marcus Rashford… And whilst we are here my name is not Mario either!! Just a simple Maro Itoje will do… Much love, Marcu… I mean Maro Itoje.”
The gaffe prompted plenty of reaction from others on social media.
Match of the Day presenter and former footballer Gary Lineker wrote: “Surely not,” with a facepalm emoji.
TV personality and broadcaster Piers Morgan found Rashford’s response amusing and replied with laughing emojis.
In a follow-up tweet, he added: “Unbelievable… until you remember it’s Gavin Williamson.”
Lawyer, activist and author of This is Why I Resist, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu has called on Williamson to be sacked.
Labour MP, Zarah Sultana shared her dismay at Williamson, tweeting: “Just when you thought @GavinWilliamson couldn’t be any more of a joke.”
And shadow justice secretary David Lammy described the incident as “appalling”:
People also shared their reactions to Rashford’s and Itoje’s light-hearted roasts, with people describing their responses as “class” and “iconic.”
But, although Rashford and Itoje appeared to laugh off the mistake, some people have accused Williamson of racism for mixing up the identities of the two Black sports stars.
Others have also tweeted out images of the Rashford and Itoje to show they look nothing alike.
Considering the tremendously successful campaigning Rashford has done for free school meals, to end poverty child poverty in the UK, and to improve children’s reading skills – all of which have earned him an MBE – many can’t believe Williamson doesn’t know what Rashford looks like, only adding to the accusations of racism.
Inevitably, it wasn’t long before the memes started doing the rounds…
Sky News Reporter Kate McCann provided some context by explaining how the pair have never met but that “Marcus Rashford has written to Gavin Williamson – twice.” The first time he received a “cold response”, and there hasn’t been a response to his second letter.
Again, Rashford has emerged as the hero, directing the attention to his campaigning on “focusing efforts on developing a sustainable long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic.”
The Education Secretary said later that he had made a “genuine mistake”.
“Towards the end of a wide-ranging interview in which I talked about both the laptops and school meals campaigns, I conflated the issues and made a genuine mistake,” he said.
“We corrected this with the journalist before publication of the story.
“I have huge respect for both Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje, who run effective and inspiring campaigns.”
It’s worth noting this isn’t the first time Rashford has been mistaken by a cabinet member. Back in June last year, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock called him “Daniel Rashford” in an interview with Sky News.
Rashford’s spokesman added: “Whether it’s Daniel Rashford or a Maro Itoje reference, the message remains the same: Put our children first.”