Names sparks ‘casual racism’ claim
“It’s a shame that the penny is still not dropping,” he said.
“I don’t think these guys realise these names are not just connected to the players, but to the communities and the land and the ancestors in the past.
“But it’s also the future where it will do the most damage, because in the video, they’ve got some kids who are just innocent bystanders in all this, but they’re almost allowing these kids the freedom to ridicule those names they can’t pronounce properly.”
Vagana, who has probably suffered his share of mispronunciation over the years, admitted players had grown used to this treatment.
“I spoke to Sammy about it and he said he had watched the show with his family,” he said. “It wasn’t until then that he realised that, as a player and an elite athlete in the system, you become desensitised to it . . . you just block it out.
“But, for him, it was the first time that he realised it was the same name as his wife and kids.
“A lot of people have contracted me from the community in New Zealand and Australia that are pretty upset by it. It’s almost to the point where they’ve given up hope — they say it’s Australia, they’re like that, but it still doesn’t make it right.”
The show segment was particularly insensitive given the past accusations levelled at commentators and their mangling of Polynesian names, some of them among the biggest and most recognisable in the game.
Fijian and Parramatta Eels winger Semi Radradra is another to suffer at the hands of the game callers.
“There’s a guy who scored four tries the other night, but a couple of nights earlier, they were ridiculing his name on TV,” said Vagana. “We need to stop that stuff.”
He drew a parallel with protests during the current NFL pre-season, where mainly black players, but now more whites, are drawing attention to racism in the United States by kneeling during the national anthem.
“They’re having clashes all over this space . . . it’s something, hopefully, we won’t get to.
“But we’re at a point now where our game can teach Australia how to do it right. In New Zealand, we’ve had commentators who have been calling names correctly for years.
“We’re about 30-40 years better culturally. Our country is really special, and if we can take some of those learnings and share them with others, starting with our neighbours, they may get to understand how to live in harmony a bit better.”
Simon Mannering says it’s “all about getting the win each week, whether it is pretty or ugly”. LLLLL 26 18-22 LLWLL 22