In September last year, New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew announced that they were undertaking a “Respect and Responsibility” review of the national game. The review cost more than $150,000 and the findings were approved by New Zealand Rugby's board last month and released to the public last Thursday (7 September).
A series of ‘unfortunate events’ around New Zealand rugby in recent years brought about the review, with the catalyst being the Chiefs' high-profile stripper scandal, which occurred during the team's Mad Monday celebrations last year. Afterwards the woman involved reported being touched inappropriately and having things thrown at her. She said she had not being taken seriously by the Chiefs’ franchise or New Zealand Rugby when raising the issues. The other incidents that followed meant that there was little choice but to seek change, and part of the review concentrated on an analysis of misconduct information from 2013-17, which covered 36 cases of misconduct, some described as serious, dealt with by New Zealand Rugby.
Players were involved in 33 of the 36 cases, two involved a team and one a club. No identities were revealed. Of the cases, four individuals were repeat offenders. The incidents included: failure to attend meetings and judicial hearings or assemble with the team, lack of compliance with agreed programmes, including: rehabilitation, drunk behaviour, inappropriate sexual behaviour towards others, violent behaviour towards others, including team members and coaches, instances involving alcohol and drugs, and homophobic slurs overheard by public and complained about.
In more than half the situations, alcohol played a key factor.
When faced with the issue and the effect it will have on New Zealand Rugby’s commercial interests, Tew said: "There's no doubt that has an impact on the view people have of our sport, of our teams and of our brands. To date our partners have been supportive but there's no question they don't want to see the same things going on and on without some action.” The review, described by Tew as “absolutely ground-breaking”, had over 100 recommendations, with six key changes to be implemented by NZ Rugby over the next 12-24 months, containing six “aspirational” goals, including: inclusive leadership, progressiveness (developing people), integrity (nurturing wellbeing), empowering (gender equality), respectful (proactive engagement), world-leading (accountable and independent).
Their priority actions for the next 12-24 months are:
- Establishing an executive governance group
- Creating a cross-functional project team
- Appointing a project manager
- Developing a project plan and integrate the 'RRR into its 2020 strategy
- Developing a charter that captures NZR's values and aspirations that rugby is for all
- Establishing an independent advisory group to provide advice and receive regular reports
Asked about payment for the Black Ferns, who won the recent World Cup, and how that fitted into "gender equality," Tew said: "We acknowledge we don't pay them as much as we would like. The Black Ferns were paid at the last World Cup, but we've got work to do." By God do they deserve that pay rise after their sensational performances.
At his press-conference prior to the clash with Argentina, Hansen was inevitably faced with further questions about the recent qualms with Aaron Smith and Jerome Kaino, and whether, in accordance with this recent review, he felt the All Blacks took appropriate action, to which he responded: "I think that's personal. Who are we to be the moral judges of anybody else? We've just to be our own moral judge. If people are breaking standards or laws, then we'll deal with it the same way we've always dealt with it - fairly swiftly and honestly." This would indicate that Hansen fully backs the system that he and his band of merry men currently have in place.
The harsh truth, for me, is that, while New Zealand Rugby deserves some credit for undertaking the review, the hard work now begins in implementing it. This is likely to be troublesome, these issues have plagued the oval-ball code for decades now, and the macho culture has been taken too far by those such as the Chiefs’ and Aaron Smith – there are far too many alcohol-related incidents, and these same incidents show that the attitude towards women still needs change. It would be unrealistic to expect these changes to simply happen overnight, as NZ Rugby chairperson Brent Impey acknowledged, saying, "we know this isn't all the answers but we are going to give this our best shot".
But for all the honest intent involved in this process, don't expect rugby to ever be totally squeaky clean. The game is, after all, a reflection of our society and will attract some bad individuals as well as the good people that dominate it; sadly, just like society, it is often the bad folk who grab the attention.
And hey, always remember that if you plan to be snecky and get intermite with a good luck suck and fuck in the park before going for a ride, always get a sawn afterdavided.