Gavin Williamson admits mixing up Marcus Rashford and Black rugby star Maro Itoje

Marcus Rashford (left) and rugby star Mario Itoje. (PA)
Marcus Rashford (left) and rugby star Maro Itoje. (PA)

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has admitted he mixed up footballer Marcus Rashford with rugby star Maro Itoje.

Manchester United striker Rashford mocked Williamson on Twitter after the MP confused the two Black sportsmen in an interview with the Evening Standard.

Asked by the Standard if he had met the footballer, Williamson 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.”

Watch: Gavin Williamson accused of mixing up Marcus Rashford with black rugby player Maro Itoje

Williamson’s advisers later told the paper he actually met Itoje and the MP has now released a statement confirming his error.

He said: "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. 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."

Reacting to the story with a crying-laughing emoji, Rashford, who forced the government to U-turn on free school meals provision during the pandemic, tweeted: “Accent could have been a giveaway”.

Itoje, the second-row England rugby star from London, is about 6ft 6in and weighs approximately 110kg.

Rashford, from Manchester, is 40kg lighter and around six inches shorter than Itoje.

Itoje, who plays for Saracens, also 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."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson answering questions from MPs on the House of Commons Education Committee in Westminster, London. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has admitted his error. (House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)

Others were less forgiving toward Williamson, widely tipped to be sacked by Boris Johnson in the next Cabinet reshuffle.

Labour MP David Lammy described the mix-up as "appalling".

He said: "Gavin Williamson must be the most ignorant, clueless and incapable Education Secretary in the UK's history."

His colleague Zarah Sultana branded the education secretary “a joke”.

Angela Rayner, the party's deputy leader, tweeted: "According to @GavinWilliamson a black man from Wythenshawe who plays football for England looks the same as a black man from North London who plays rugby for England."

Read more: Marcus Rashford leads congratulations to Big Issue vendor, 58, who passed his GCSEs

Rashford has been a high-profile campaigner around the issue of child poverty and child hunger.

During the pandemic he has forced the government to perform multiple U-turns on the issue of free school meals.

In August, he urged health professionals to help get more families in need signed up to a government-backed food voucher scheme.

Away from rugby, Itoje describes himself as a racial-justice campaigner and the founding director of the 4FrontProject, which empowers young people and communities to fight for justice, peace and freedom.

Watch: Marcus Rashford calls on health professionals to help get families signed up to food voucher scheme