As All Blacks soar, scan­dal­hit NZ rugby reels

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

WHILE the All Blacks are reach­ing new heights, re­cent off-field scan­dals have left New Zealand Rugby struggling to main­tain the sport’s im­age.

NZR ad­mits the game needs to change its ma­cho cul­ture af­ter a se­ries of player in­ci­dents in­volv­ing strip­pers, street vi­o­lence and ca­sual sex.

Pun­dits have dubbed it “the season from hell”, dis­tract­ing at­ten­tion from the All Blacks’ bid this week­end to set a new record of 18 con­sec­u­tive Test vic­to­ries.

It is an un­com­fort­able po­si­tion for rugby ad­min­is­tra­tors, who are used to New Zealan­ders back­ing the sport with an al­most re­li­gious fer­vour.

New Zealand Her­ald writer Gre­gor Paul said the back­lash had been ex­ac­er­bated by NZR’s poor han­dling of var­i­ous crises.

“They have been ac­cused of be­ing le­nient and guilty of con­don­ing abu­sive be­hav­iour by do­ing so lit­tle to pun­ish it,” he wrote this week.

“They have had their fail­ings pointed out by just about ev­ery­one, but most tellingly by some of the most in­flu­en­tial women in the coun­try.”

The prob­lems be­gan in Au­gust, when a strip­per known as Scar­lette said she was abused and de­meaned at a Waikato Chiefs end-of-season “Mad Mon­day” party.

The Chiefs ini­tially sug­gested her word could not be trusted be­cause of her oc­cu­pa­tion, and an in­ter­nal NZR re­view dis­missed her claims and cleared the play­ers.

“A lot of the lan­guage im­me­di­ately af­ter the Chiefs in­ci­dent was around vic­tim blam­ing and sham­ing,” hu­man rights com­mis­sioner David Ruther­ford said at the time.

NZR soon found it­self in the spot­light again over its re­sponse to a teenage star’s vi­o­lent ram­page on a Welling­ton street.

The player, Losi Filipo, sav­agely at­tacked four peo­ple, in­clud­ing two women, but es­caped con­vic­tion be­cause a judge said it might harm his rugby career.

Of­fi­cials at first stood by Filipo, only to per­form an em­bar­rass­ing U-turn and agree to ter­mi­nate his Welling­ton Rugby con­tract as pub­lic out­rage grew.

There were fur­ther blows to the game’s im­age when one pro­vin­cial player was jailed for mas­tur­bat­ing in pub­lic and an­other was charged with in­tent to com­mit rape.

In such a heated at­mos­phere, the tim­ing of an in­dis­cre­tion by All Blacks half-back Aaron Smith could not have been worse.

The 54-Test veteran was seen en­ter­ing a dis­abled toi­let cu­bi­cle with a mys­tery woman at Christchurch Air­port while he was trav­el­ling with the na­tional team the day af­ter a re­cent Test against South Africa.

While there was no hint of crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing, Smith’s ac­tions was deemed “se­ri­ous mis­con­duct” that dam­aged the rep­u­ta­tion of the All Blacks and its spon­sors.

He was sus­pended for one Test and vol­un­tar­ily stood down from an­other – the Oc­to­ber 22 block­buster match against Aus­tralia where his team­mates are chas­ing the record win.

In re­sponse to its re­cent woes, NZR is set­ting up an in­de­pen­dent panel to re­view “re­spect and re­spon­si­bil­ity” in the game.

Politi­cian Louisa Wall, a former rugby in­ter­na­tional once named NZ women’s player of the year, said cul­tural change needed to be­gin at the top.

She said NZR needed to in­clude women at board level and take their con­tri­bu­tion to the game se­ri­ously.

“The way that women have tra­di­tion­ally been viewed, they’re in the kitchen pre­par­ing the food, they wash the uni­forms,” she told Welling­ton’s

Do­min­ion Post news­pa­per. “We’re not seen as the ad­min­is­tra­tors, the coaches, the um­pires.”

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