Wednesday 7 April 2010

Shame on the NZRFU

This doesn’t happen very often. In fact, the last time was almost 29 years ago, but I found myself agreeing 100% with what John Minto wrote in his Press column this week. There is no on-line version that I can find yet, but his column was being critical of the NZRFU for declining to apologise to Maori for their decision to exclude Maori from selection in the All Black teams to tour South Africa in 1928, ’49 and ‘60. It is not if this idea came from nowhere or was ill-timed, as this article shows:

The author of a new book on the history of Maori rugby, Malcolm Mulholland, found while researching Beneath the Maori Moon that it was still a burning issue for some whanau and former players.

He wrote to the NZRU last year inviting
it to apologise, but rugby's governing body has refused.

The NZRFU as the guardians of New Zealand rugby have a lot to be proud of in the role that rugby has played in race relations in New Zealand, with great players like George Nepia and JB Smith being national heroes for Maori and Pakeha alike. But their decision send representative teams to South Africa while not selecting these two superstars, amongst others, for purely racial reasons was a disgrace, as was their decision to not schedule a game between the Springboks and a Maori team in 1937 following the fallout from the infamous telegram sent by a white South African journalist after the Springboks played a Maori team on their first tour here in 1921:
“Thousands Europeans frantically cheering on band of coloured men to defeat members of own race was too much for springboks who frankly disgusted”
To not issue an apology now effectively aligns the current NZRFU with those regrettable decisions from the past. How easy an apology would have been; how silly to spurn the opportunity.


  1. As a young student radical in 1981 (I was only 13) I wholeheartedly supportedly the ban the tour movement, much to the disappointment of my dad. And like yourself, I have found little commonality with Mr Minto in the intervening years.
    However, as surprised as I am that these decisions (made at least 50 years ago) are still bones of contention among Maori, I agree that the NZRFU would do itself no harm in apologising. It makes me wonder what might motivate them not to, so here are a couple of theories...

    1) The old-boys network is at play - it is more palatable for the NZRFU to support the decisions of its predecessors regardless of the impact of, or reasoning behind, these decisions.
    2) They may feel an apology would be admitting responsibility and that, in some odd way, may be opening the door for future legal action. Unlikely, but with the litigiousness of the grievance industry in the last 20 years or so anything is possible.
    3) They still actually feel that their predecessors made the right call. I hope this isn't the case.
    4) They simply see it as a non-issue and don't understand the palaver over something that happened so long ago, especially when they are busy with arrangements for the upcoming RWC.

    My guess is that it is a combination of reasons 4 and 1, although I make no claim to be privy to the thought processes in the NZRFU.

  2. What about the existence of the NZ rugby union’s Maori Board, and the exclusion of non-Maori players from its Maori rugby teams?

  3. So people are still pissed off about decisions made 50 years ago? I think the expression is, 'get a life'.


  4. @Lats:

    I suspect it is a version of your reason #1. The movement to insist that the NZRFU send a fully representative team to South Africa soon morphed into the movement to oppose all sporting contacts with SA. Most of the current NZRFU top brass were probably on the other side of that issue in 1981 and after. Indeed, chairman Jack Hobbs was one of the rebel cavaliers who toured SA in 1986. I suspect that deep down they know they were on the wrong side of this issue. Although the exclusion of Maori from sides touring SA was a much clearer wrong, and before the time of the current board, I suspect that an apology would force them to confront some much more recnet demons.

    @Lats and Anonomous: I don't think it is a surprise that there is still deep-seated resentment in the Maori community. 50 years ago is still well within the lifetime of many people, and a sense of injustice is easily passed from father to son (I certainly inherited from my father the irritation that the ABs lost 4-0 in 1949 having left JB Smith and Vince Bevan behind, and that is without my sharing the characteristic of these players that led to their exclusion.)

    Recall also, that the reason the issue is now in the past is not that the NZRFU realised they were wrong and made a change. They were forced into a change of policy by the Holyoake government in 1967.

  5. @ Moataz

    There is a world of difference between a team that is a celebration of a particular culture that selects from within that culture, and a team which is representative of a country and chooses to not select a citizen of that country because of racial orgins.

    There is also a world of difference between someone like me not being eligible to play for a Maori team because I have no Maori ancestry, and someone with European ancestry being ineligible to play for an all-European NZ team becuase they also have some Maori ancestry.

  6. @Moataz

    Certainly the NZ Maori rugby team is selected on racial grounds. In fact, here is a quote from the NZRU website:

    "All contracted players are able to nominate themselves as eligible for New Zealand Maori and, in the event a player is considered for selection, the team’s kaumatua, or cultural advisor, will trace the player’s whakapapa, or genealogy, to confirm his heritage and eligibility."

    However I personally favour the continued existence of this team. It is a useful tool for blooding players on the fringe of AB selection in the international arena. The likes of the whimsically titled "Junior All Blacks" would not be as likely to get a shot at a full international 1st XIV as the Maori side, so the NZRU I'm sure uses the Maori side as a development team for the AB's...

  7. Oops, I meant 1st XV, apologies for my inaccurate roman numerals :)