Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Canterbury Rugby launches anti-racism campaign following incidents of racial abuse

Sake Aca was racially abused while playing rugby.
Sake Aca was racially abused while playing rugby.

Tackling discrimination on and off the field is the new name of the game for the Canterbury Rugby Union, which has launched a campaign to fight racism.

The initiative, which kicks off today, encourages clubs, schools and everyone involved in rugby in the Canterbury region to pledge to respect each other and to understand that everyone is different.

In a clever title, We All Bleed Red, the campaign gets its message of equality across effectively, while also emphasising the need for unity among its own team members, who often wear red.

It comes after a number of high-profile incidents in the Canterbury region, where players have complained about being racially abused.

Last year, Waihora Rugby player Bronson Munro was smacked with a 46-week suspension after racially abusing Canterbury rugby player Peni Manumanuniliwa, calling him a "black c***."

Manumanuniliwa, of Fijian descent, said at the time he felt hurt and could not understand why people called him inappropriate names based on his nationality.

He acknowledged he wanted something to be done about racial abuse not only for his own benefit, but for that of other rugby players.

In 2015, Christchurch winger Sake Aca, also of Fijian descent, left the field in tears when a man from the sidelines hauled continuous racial abuse at him during a match.

Canterbury Rugby Union chief Nathan Godfrey said it was vital everyone involved in the game take a united approach when it came to discrimination of any sort and encouraged people to call out and report racism.

"The vast majority of the rugby community in Canterbury were appalled to hear about these recent cases of racial abuse in our grassroots game,'' he said.

"The CRFU wanted to take a strong leadership position by sending a clear message that racial abuse - and any form of discrimination including referee abuse, gender, sexuality or physical disability - will be met with zero tolerance.''

RESPECT

The campaign includes the pledge: R-U-G-B-Y: Respect, Understanding, Growth and participation, Behaviour, You - which encourages players, referees and coaches to encourage good behaviour and acceptance of all people and to be aware of their own behaviour.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy called the initiative a courageous move.

"The most powerful way we can make a difference is when, together, we stand up to abusers and let them know their abuse is not welcome nor allowed.''

We All Bleed Red has also released a video featuring a number of Canterbury rugby players - children and adults - from different backgrounds giving their views about the game and new campaign.

All Black captain Kieran Read and Crusaders first-five Richie Mo'unga front the video.

Read says: "There are over 15,000 rugby players in the Canterbury region and no two players are the same."

Mo'unga says: "It's our differences and our diversity that makes this game great - no matter our beliefs or backgrounds, whether you're boy or girl or the colour of your skin. We all share the same love for this game and we all bleed red.

Read ends the clip by pushing the message: "Our code is simple: there is no place for discrimination in our game'."

As part of the initiative, the union has been working alongside the NZ Rugby Union and the Children's Commissioner about changes to the judicial process when it came to dealing with complaints that involved youth.

The changes will apply to secondary school rugby and under and will be trialled by Canterbury Rugby this year.

The new provisions include if a young player denies an offence, they are referred to a Judicial Committee hearing. Questions for witnesses also need to be given at least a day before a hearing.

This comes after a junior player was found guilty of racial abuse during a school match.

Children's Commissioner, Andrew Becroft, said: "It's right that young people are held to account when they have breached the code of behaviour expected.

"But how they are held to account is also critically important. We need to remember that we're dealing with children, not grown-ups. Using an adult process is not appropriate for a young teenager.''

**For more info and to pledge your support, visit: We All Bleed Red

- NZ Herald

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