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Review exposes alcohol, sexism in New Zealand rugby

New Zealand All Blacks’ players attend a training session in Waitakere © AFP/File / DAMIEN MEYER

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Sep 7 – New Zealand Rugby committed Thursday to clamping down on antisocial behaviour by players but admitted it will not be easy to meet recommendations made in a “Respect and Responsibility” review.

The review was set up after several public incidents including All Black Aaron Smith’s tryst with a woman in an airport toilet, and complaints by a stripper that members of the Waikato Chiefs Super Rugby club touched her inappropriately and threw beer at her.

Rugby is a focal point of social life in New Zealand where the national side, the All Blacks, have won the last two World Cups and where their losses have been linked to increases in domestic violence.

The review, led by New Zealand Law Society president Kathryn Beck, contained more than 100 recommendations with six key changes to be implemented by NZ Rugby over the next 12-24 months.

Prominent issues involved the impact and use of alcohol, behaviour towards women, and the stardom and sense of entitlement in some players, although Beck said there was “more good stuff than bad stuff going on”.

The six areas to be addressed initially cover inclusive leadership, developing people, nurturing wellbeing, gender equity, proactive engagement and being accountable and independent.

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) chief executive Steve Tew the sport’s bosses were committed to adopting the recommendations.

“They’re not all simple or easy to deliver and nor should they be,” he said.

“The integrity, reputation, and ultimate success of the game in New Zealand depends on this.”

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NZR chairman Brent Impey warned change would not come overnight.

“Undertaking any significant culture change in any organisation is complex and takes time,” he said.

“The NZR board is committed to setting a long-term programme for action that will deliver a number of activities in the short, medium and long-term.

“Rugby has long been held up as one of the unique vehicles for New Zealanders to feel connected to each other, to be inspired, and be great members of their communities.

“We want to play our part in those opportunities and ensure rugby plays a positive role in our society.”

Part of the review involved investigating 36 cases of misconduct in the last four years and it found that in more than half of them alcohol was a key factor, with drugs and drug-alcohol combinations also having an impact.

The review summary stated that New Zealand Rugby’s mission was to “inspire and unify” New Zealanders, but incidents “prior to and in 2016 began to undermine rugby’s place and contribution”.

“(The) issues no longer reflected contemporary New Zealand’s values and expected behaviours. These issues were of concern to people within the rugby family and wider community,” it said.

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