Rugby, Aliens, Strippers and Dunnies
Just when we really needed some light relief, with the general election campaign in full media frenzy and nightly television debates won or lost on quips and zingers, New Zealand Rugby (NZR), the corporate face of the eponymous game, produces a plan to clean up the rugby culture that led to consumption of alcohol on Mad Mondays and ritualistic stoning of strippers. A year’s investigation of misconduct, dubbed a ‘Respect and Responsibility’ Review, culminated in a media event last Thursday. Grim-faced New Zealand Law Society president Kathryn Beck, flanked by two senior bouncer types from the Rugby Union, delivered the findings to a bristling media scrum of tweet-hungry reporters juggling phones, notebooks and pens, streaming live video cameras and selfie sticks. Of the 36 cases of misconduct uncovered in the past four years: 33 involved individuals of whom four were repeat offenders, two involved a whole team and one an entire club. All in all, on average, every six weeks in NZ, a rugby player or coach or even club president/barman had been involved in some misconduct or other. Misconduct identified by the mainly female panel included:
Failure to attend meetings, judicial hearings, team assemblies; Compliance failures (rehabilitation programmes, curfews); Inappropriate sexual behaviour towards others; Violent behaviour towards others (off the field); Instances involving alcohol and drugs (not including ‘drunk behaviour and associated damage’ which is separate); Homophobic slur (when overheard by a member of the public and complained about).
Failure to attend meetings is a serious matter in a country where rugby culture is so entrenched that the following news brief raised no eyebrows. ‘Fiery space object spotted’, the New Zealand Herald reported on May 19. ‘A fiery space object in the sky over Gisborne last night disrupts rugby practice.’ Only in New Zealand, where a disabled toilet led the television news after being caught up in one of the incidents of misconduct caused by poor behaviour. The primary cause of misconduct, the panel concluded, was poor behaviour. Alcohol, as you might have guessed, was a ‘key factor’ in half the incidents. NZR’s chief financial officer and head of corporate services, Nicki Nicol, will lead implementation of the review’s findings. ‘The integrity, reputation and ultimate success of the game in New Zealand depends on this,’ said NZR’s chubby chief executive, Steve Tew, surprising many who believe it depends on the All Blacks’ continued world dominance. But no. Says Tew: ‘This is about improving our performance off the field and improving the future of the game for all New Zealanders.’ That would include women rugby players. They would like Mr Tew to improve his performance in getting their five-times world champion Black Ferns upgraded to business class alongside the All Blacks next time they fly long-haul to the other side of the world.
Also welcoming any off-field performance improvement would be Hamilton stripper Scarlette who arrived at a Chiefs’ end-of-season ‘Mad Monday’ do at a Waikato hot pool last September to find many of the team already ‘beyond drunk’. They threw gravel at her, chanted lewdly, went through her phone and even short-changed her. Poor behaviour definitely led to misconduct. Scarlett went to the media, who gave her a good run. Feminists had a field day, demanding urgent changes in male behaviour, not just out in the country where this all began but in urban areas as well. In some quarters rugby and rape were becoming synonymous.
Barely had the hysteria over rugby culture begun to subside than All Black halfback, Aaron Smith, messaged an ex-girlfriend to meet him for a quickie in a disabled toilet at Christchurch Airport. She went in first, he followed. If you’ve seen him on the field you’ll know how quickly he can move. He queue-jumped ahead of a woman with a baby who waited outside while her husband used his phone to record whatever noises came from inside, as you do. A week passes and the woman with the baby becomes concerned at what, in hindsight, she realises was ‘inappropriate behaviour for anyone in a public space’. She dobs Smith into the local media which dutifully reports it as further evidence of the evil rugby culture. Typical headline: ‘All Black’s Toilet Tryst Shock’. Smith panics and tries to shut down the story. He messages the woman: OK are you will to do a sawn afterdavided to say we didn’t have sex in there …?? Cause they claim there a video and can hear noise but u weren’t loud at all … Inconvenient truths such as absence of any broken marital vows and the woman’s evident willing consent to Smith’s request to tryst like they did last summer are quickly obscured by the fast-growing outrage in intercity suburbs at this latest assault on the weaker sex by the dreaded men in shorts. Both national television news networks led their Sunday night bulletins with video of the airport facility in question. Viewers were invited to see for themselves the generous space available for toilet trysting. Absent, though, are the innocent couple (Mary and Joseph?), outside with the baby and phone.
A third incident of off-field misconduct arising from misbehaviour and the consumption of alcohol, in which a rugby player decked four bystanders outside a bar, confirmed the existence of a rampant rugby culture that has to be reined in and brought to justice. A posse has been formed. ‘Priority Actions’ have been set for the next two years. Following Noddy’s house-building example in Toyland, the roof will come first. The Number 1 Priority Action is to establish an executive governance group which will create a cross-functional project team and appoint a project manager who will develop a project plan and write a charter that incorporates values and aspirations to ensure rugby is for all people.
No over-arching change strategy would be complete without an independent advisory group to provide advice and receive regular reports. All in all, the ‘Respect and Responsibility Review’ of the rugby culture is expected to deliver a significant increase in jobs for the boys and consultancies for the girls in the governance and quango culture. Cheers.
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