I think NZ rugby is opening itself up to all sorts of trouble by allowing TJ Perenara to wear that wristband. The problem here is precedent.
In case you missed it, he wrote Ihumātao on his wristband on Saturday night's match, and it was clearly designed for others to see because it was written upside down for him but right way up for the cameras to catch while he was doing the haka, and holding his fist to his chest during the national anthem.
Now, as far as I can see, no one’s actually complaining about him wearing the wristband. Because it’s not offensive.
But the trouble they’ve got is that it’s made the news, it's been noted, but they’ve said nothing. In fact, when coach Steve Hansen was asked about it, he said: "It's his decision. It doesn't bother me. I didn't even notice it, to be honest."
Then he made a joke at his own expense about what he’d write if he got the chance, which is pretty much him trying to move the conversation on as quickly as possible.
I get that. This isn’t something that anyone really wants to get drawn into. Even the Prime minister won’t go near the place
I mean, here’s an example. We called an academic today who specialises in sport and sociology. He told us he wouldn’t talk about it because talking about Ihumātao while working at a university is in his words ‘ not safe’.
So New Zealand Rugby doesn’t want to deal with it. They’re letting it go because telling Perenara off would be inviting trouble. But this isn’t actually consistent with NZRU's views.
They normally don’t want players broadcasting their political messages on it. Look at the case of Josh Kronfeld and ‘stop testing’ written on his headband in 1995. He was told not to do that again.
Look at the case of Kane Hames, who wore a ‘standing rock’ writstband in support of the indigenous people in North Dakota in the us three years ago. He was told not to do that.
But this time, NZRU’s looking the other way.
I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t find the writs band offensive. But - precedent.
What if a player goes on the field with Fletchers written on his wrist? Or an Israel Folau type writes a scripture about people going to hell? Is the NZRU going to be ok with that?
And if they aren’t, how are they going to tell that player they have to take the wristband off, but it was ok for Perenara not to? If it went to court like Folau’s has, would precedent become a real problem then?
This isn’t necessarily a one day in the never never problem. Free speech is a debate that is blowing up all over the world, including in new Zealand. And we know, thanks to Folau, free speech can become a problem for rugby.
This is a case I suspect where the rules are the rules for a reason, and bending them maybe fine now, but may cause big problems down the line.