Blues brothers rally round beleaguered Lam

By Michael Dickison, Patrick McKendry

Michael Jones. Photo / Richard Robinson
Michael Jones. Photo / Richard Robinson

Former Blues players are rallying behind the reeling Blues after a disastrous start to the season which has escalated to claims of racist taunts and tears at press conferences.

Past All Black Michael Jones and a group of former players arrived unannounced at the team's captain's run at Eden Park yesterday. It was in response to claims by coach Pat Lam that he and his family were struggling with racially-charged criticism over his handling of the team.

"We wanted to show our support for them and that we care for them," Jones said. "We really feel for them. All the supporters of Blues rugby and in particular the guys who have been privileged to play for the franchise, we're all hurting."

The racism was just a few "rotten apples" stirring things up, he said.

"What I saw was more ignorance," Jones added when asked if he had experienced racism within the game. "There's a section of community which is so removed, so isolated and not integrated enough into the broader multicultural society."

Alongside him were other famous Blues names from another era - Eroni Clarke, Ofisa Tonu'u, Waisake Sotutu, Kevin Nepia, Andrew Blowers and Leo Lafaiali'i.

Tonu'u said racially-charged criticism had compelled the group of friends to lend their support. "It's all selective - it wasn't an issue when world championships were won, but now it all comes up," Tonu'u said. "That's just cowardly stuff."

Lam's story was the same as those of many of the "boys" at the club - parents coming to New Zealand and making sacrifices to give opportunities to their children. Lam, under pressure after a one-win/five-loss record, twice broke down in tears during a press conference on Wednesday when asked about the effect the criticism was having on his family.

Lam said the vitriol aimed at him on talkback radio, social media sites and websites hurt his Samoan-born parents and revived memories of the racism they had suffered.

Commenters on Twitter pointed to the Blues website and radio shows as the source of the racism, but talkback representatives distanced themselves from the accusations, saying they had checks to filter out such callers and an eight-second delay if they failed.

The Radio Network's general manager of talk radio, Dallas Gurney, said: "If we were made aware of specific instances then clearly we would investigate them as per our usual complaints process."

He said he had not encountered racial comments.

A Blues spokesperson said comments of a racial nature had been removed from its website, though she said it was a policy to keep the site honest and uncensored.

Some of the most strident criticism of Lam and the team can still be found on the Blues' official website. Users are able to leave comments under stories on the site and the criticism from the first defeat of the season to the Crusaders has been sometimes harsh.

A comment from someone calling themselves "blues fan" left on March 26 said: "pat lam your time is up, please resign ASAP. blues need a kiwi coach".

More recent comments refer to Lam picking only Samoan players.

New Zealand rugby boss Steve Tew fired a shot back at those not prepared to put their names to overly personal or offensive comments. "As a national body, we have a zero tolerance for any racial abuse or activity, that goes without saying.

"As a New Zealander, because I don't think this is only a rugby issue, I'm appalled. I find the whole ability by people to hide behind social media and be faceless and to criticise people personally and to bring race and religion or anything else into it, is just a very disappointing part of our country."

- NZ Herald

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