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Labour MP calls on Government to show leadership in NZR civil war

Bonnie Jansen,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 May 2024, 3:37pm

Labour MP calls on Government to show leadership in NZR civil war

Bonnie Jansen,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 May 2024, 3:37pm

Labour’s sports and recreation spokesman Peeni Henare is calling on the Government to show leadership over the New Zealand Rugby (NZR) civil war.

Eight months on from the Pilkington Review’s damning report, rugby’s warring factions appear no closer to reaching a unified solution on the best way to tackle the game’s many pressing and vexed problems.

Henare, who’s taken up the portfolio from former Deputy Prime Minister and Sports Minister Grant Robertson, told the Herald it’s noted when there’s unrest in Aotearoa’s national game.

“It has far-reaching ramifications and even as a politician, it affects the mood of our country when now our rugby union isn’t in a good shape,” he told the Herald.

“It’s important that we don’t have a protracted drawn-out process and arbitration between the NZRU and the Players’ Association.

“If there was a role for the Government to perhaps play as an arbitrator or as a medium between the two factions – but more importantly where if the Government provides direction for the future of the way it looks towards sport and recreation that might go some way to making sure [how] rugby and other sports see themselves in our future.”

On Thursday, New Zealand Rugby will hold a special general meeting, to vote on its governance structure, after the Pilkington Review found the current model not fit-for-purpose.

The New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association, most of the NZR board, Super Rugby Pacific and Aupiki franchises, New Zealand Rugby Commercial, the New Zealand Māori Rugby Board and some provincial unions are supporting what is called the Review Proposal.

There is then a cohort of provincial unions supporting a second proposal, known as Proposal 2, that sees the same thing but with more experience on a provincial board.

On the same day as the rugby vote, the Government will reveal its first Budget, which Henare said should be used as an opportunity to tackle the anarchy.

“There’s lots of moving parts at the moment in sports and some challenging areas,” Henare continued.

“[The] New Zealand Rugby union, for example, is going through some challenges with its Players’ Association and a few other spaces where we’re looking to continue to support participation and diversity in sport and sometimes many of those things take money and I think the Budget is a good chance if the Government’s of a mind to draw a line under what they see [as] important.”

Henare referenced Hurricanes Poua and the haka they performed early in the Super Rugby Aupiki season calling out the current Government, saying it was symptomatic of the dispute between the rugby union and the Players’ Association.

“Maybe that’s a sign of just how big the divide is here when our players who are professionals want to be heard they want to utilise their platform to support a cause whatever it might be.

“They should feel free to be able to do that and what better way to do it than to do it on the battleground that they do that they enter in on every weekend and every sporting game.

“[Sportspeople,] they’re often political by nature and I congratulate those wāhine for standing up... and with respect to any of its fallout, it’s up to the rugby union and those players to be able to work through that.”

Minister for Sport and Recreation Chris Bishop told the Herald it’s a matter for the rugby community.

“I hope the matter is resolved quickly and the focus returns to leading, growing and promoting rugby from the community game through to their representative teams in black.”

Bonnie Jansen is a multimedia journalist in the NZME sports team. She’s a football commentator and co-host of the Football Fever podcast. She’s equally passionate about women’s sport and was part of the Te Rito cadetship scheme before becoming a fulltime journalist.

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