When New Zealand Rugby, New Zealand Football, New Zealand Cricket, New Zealand Rugby League, Netball New Zealand and Hockey New Zealand came together at the end of May this year to create #SportIsForEveryone, I cheered. The statement they signed up to included these notable sections,
“The respective sporting organisations recognise that diversity and inclusion means that anyone should be encouraged and able to participate and enjoy sport without prejudice and in a welcoming and inclusive environment.”
“By working on targeted priorities and strategies within their own sporting environments and by collaborating across all sports those involved will ensure meaningful activity is undertaken to improve inclusion, promote diversity and eliminate discrimination within the sporting culture in New Zealand.”
At the time Steve Tew, head of New Zealand Rugby, said this;
“In working alongside other major sports, we’ve seen that rugby is not unique in the challenges it faces to be considered truly inclusive in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and ability.
This is not about creating a single policy aimed at one particular area of inclusion but teaming up with other sports to get the message across that everyone should be encouraged and be able to participate and enjoy sport without prejudice and in welcoming environments.”
The CEO of Sport New Zealand applauded Tew, saying;
“We probably all recognise the threat of things like corruption, match-fixing and doping, but just as important are things like sideline behaviour, protection of children in sport, good governance and, the focus today, ensuring sport is inclusive. I applaud New Zealand Rugby for their leadership in this space, and all of the sports involved. They have all stepped up to say that sport is important and its value for all New Zealanders must not be underestimated.”
We’ve seen that rugby is not unique in the challenges it faces.
I applaud New Zealand Rugby for their leadership in this space.
I pondered these three excerpts as Dave Rennie, Steve Tew and Andrew Flexman gave their press conference this week.
At first I thought perhaps they were, like the investigation, restricted by the boundaries of #SportIsForEveryone. After all, it’s about participation in sport – not the wider effects of sport and sporting culture in New Zealand. After all, you can’t hold the Chiefs and New Zealand Rugby accountable for, as Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu says, these guys going 30 years and not learning that touching a woman without her consent is wrong. That doesn’t affect participation in the game, does it? Hold up.
“In embarking on this project the organisations involved are cognisant of the important role of sport in New Zealand, and the potential for sport to promote and lead important social change across New Zealand society generally.”
Bugger. Looks like New Zealand Rugby, Steve Tew, the Chiefs, Andrew Flexman, Uncle Tom Cobley and all are actually signed up to a multi-agency operation to eliminate prejudice ( homophobia, racism and, oh yes, sexism and misogyny) and increase participation which includes the wider effect of sporting culture and social change in New Zealand. Which presumably includes the public behaviour of those who engage in the sport at the highest level, which means their own bloody players.
That would require them treating the allegations in a manner which reflects their severity. Like interviewing Scarlette and the other unnamed woman and getting the full story, rather than declaring that ‘the information in the media’ was enough. Interviewing players and ‘independent’ witnesses, like the guy who drives the bus the players were on and people invited to hang out with the players first and then comparing what they say against her story – sorry, nah, that’s arse backwards.
It would also mean doing more than making ‘we’re very sorry’ faces and then committing to action which means some poor blokes who weren’t even there have got a permanent mark against them, even if it’s a tiny speck of a mark which won’t have any real effect on their careers or their behaviour. While at the same time making ‘we’re very serious’ faces and insisting greater controls be placed on Mad Mondays – presumably to ensure that the nothing that happened every happens again.
Something more might look like the #LoveRugbyRespectWomen campaign. Front footing the issue. For a sporting organisation that prides itself on its aggressive, creative and relentlessly pacey playing style – getting stuck into the issue of sexism and misogyny, alongside other prejudices, should be something NZR approaches with the same intent as a team of terrified Wallabies. The players are respected, the organisation is respected. When they speak, those words matter. When they are silent, that silence matters too. You don’t win by playing on the back foot. That’s not the Kiwi way.
If the behaviour of some of the players was allegedly bad, at least they got out of being held accountable for it and that is still something that needs addressing. But Rennie, Tew and Flexman can’t escape their own behaviour, because it’s not just their word against someone who’s already had her employment prospects reduced, been accused of attention seeking, and remained anonymous, while clearly requesting her privacy over this matter (in the same way she asked the players to respect her boundaries).
They can’t rely on independent witnesses, or looking at only partial evidence.
We all saw what they did the other day in defence of their brand, and I don’t think any of us need an NZR lawyer to tell us that it stunk. Because they may believe #SportIsForEveryone, but it looks like they also believe accountability isn’t.
And that’s not playing fair.
Postscript: I’m not saying football (or soccer, if you’re a heathen) is perfect either. That’s why all these sporting organisations signed up to #SportIsForEveryone. But when an issue like this comes up, it’s up to the sporting organisation involved to step up, not frantically hit reverse and end up sticking their rig in a cesspit. I would hope NZF would in a similar situation. But there’s work to do by all participants in the project.
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.