‘Diversity is Strength’, a New Zealand rugby promotional video released last week, was conveniently timed to highlight key aspects of the Israel Folau controversy.
When stretched, the material for the All Black and Black Ferns jerseys will reveal a rainbow image in support of homosexuality.
In the same week, All Black coach Steve Hansen – an old, wealthy, white, establishment male – refuses to pronounce the name of a Maori player in contention for selection correctly.
So much for embracing diversity.
How insulting for the proud family of Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, who was on the cusp of the greatest achievement in his young career, to have his name so publicly butchered by an NZRU employee.
Efforts to make the game more inclusive are honourable, but the NZRU attempting to take a lead on matters of diversity is rich given their shoddy record in this regard. Their timing reeks of cynical opportunism dreamed up by some overpaid marketing consultant.
Has there ever been a gay All Black? Not on record and there have been 1170 All Blacks since 1884.
New Zealand society has advanced greatly from the times of Foreskin’s Lament, but many of the cultural hegemonies exposed in that revealing rugby commentary still exist, making widespread acceptance of homosexual players surely difficult to embrace in some dressing rooms.
Let’s consider New Zealand rugby’s record in other areas of diversity.
The NZRU bent over backwards to cater to the racist desires of apartheid (and pre-apartheid) South Africa, as Maori players were excluded from the 1928, 1949 and 1960 tours of the Republic.
In 1970, Maori players were bestowed the insulting title of ‘honorary whites’ and then there was the chaos of the 1981 Springboks visit, which divided a nation. The estimated government budget for that tour was $2 million, but it blew out to $7.2 million as taxpayers’ money was spent on police efforts to keep protesters in check.
What was New Zealand rugby’s response? They tried to arrange an All Black tour to South Africa in 1985, which was later cancelled. Hey, the 1981 tour still made a profit of $190,000.
It took until 20 years after the collapse of apartheid in South Africa for the NZRU to formally apologise to Maori for the hurt caused.
In 2016, Doctor Farah Palmer became the first woman appointed to the NZRU board. It took 124 years and only happened because of a Respect and Responsibility Review (RRR) which was sparked by a spate of embarrassingly public scandals.
In the words of the review: “Six recommendations have been made and the theme of each is focused on: Inclusive Leadership, Better People, Wellbeing, Gender Equality, Engagement and Communications and Accountability and Independence.”
Since when did Twitter become a forum for social justice? Brad Weber and TJ Perenara didn’t speak to anyone in the press about their views on Israel Folau. Both tweeted a short objection and suddenly they’re acclaimed as moral crusaders.
At least they said something for a change. Players rarely say anything interesting, and the lack of genuine characters in the All Blacks is startling.
New Zealand rugby has leveraged the Folau storm to try and disguise their own poor history in addressing diversity. Nice try, but there is still a long way to go and pronouncing Maori and Polynesian names correctly would be a good start.