Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Erratic players come in all colours

To blame Polynesians and Maori members when things go wrong for the Warriors is just racist bunk.

Every time this erratic NRL club falls in a hole, you dread what's coming - namely racism. Photo / Rod Emmerson
Every time this erratic NRL club falls in a hole, you dread what's coming - namely racism. Photo / Rod Emmerson

The Warriors got the monkey off their back when they broke a long losing streak against the Cowboys on Monday night. But a gorilla of a problem just won't go away.

Every time this erratic NRL club falls in a hole, you dread what's coming - namely racism.

It is an ugly and frustrating subject I've cringed away from in the past. But the shock of hearing derogatory comments about Polynesian and Maori players again has got the fingers flying across the keyboard.

Truth be told, it reflects an undercurrent of racism in this country at odds with the cosy paradise many New Zealanders pretend to live in.

Yes, we may appear to be trying to make good mistakes of the past, but we're still making them unfortunately.

Take the Treaty of Waitangi reparations. They are viewed grudgingly in many quarters, without any widespread interest in knowing the offences that occurred.

A healthy community would try to repair the damage in the spirit of the Treaty, whose extraordinary potential was destroyed by deceit and greed.

And while Pacific Island culture is inherent in our society, our lives entwined, cliches remain. New Zealand society has remarkably little knowledge of Pacific Island countries, personalities and history.

Feed the machine with ill-will, disdain and misconceptions and out come horrible caricatures, including when things go wrong at the Warriors.

The basic line, and I've heard this almost since the inception of the club in 1995, is that players with white skins are tough in any situation, while brown skins equal flat-track bullies who can't do the hard yards when the going gets tough.

In other words, erratic brown-skinned players reflect cultural weakness, while erratic white-skinned players are just erratic white-skinned players.

It is demeaning to even have to say that this is a load of bunk, but you have to say it. It is just as humiliating to list the many players who prove (in every direction) the absurdity of these attitudes... and on that score I'm not going to bother.

NRL coaches certainly don't agree - you can see that in their recruitment and selection. They are in constant contact with many races, and know players as individuals with cultural influences, not through prejudice.

They have also probably modified the traditional Euro-centric training approaches and taken on board the interesting, multicultural world we live in.

The shock around the racist attitudes is magnified, because the purveyors are not twisted fascists in bunkers plotting to overthrow a sophisticated world. These views come from ordinary Joes and Janes in my experience, and everywhere from posh parties to public bars.

The latest to come across this desk claimed that Maori and Pacific Island culture never had leaders, so the brown-skinned Warriors can't follow a coach and captain into battle. Seriously?

Maybe these ideas persist because as a nation, we have never grasped the intricacies of our past. About the only Maori leader people of my age knew about was the Ngapuhi chief Hone Heke, and only because he was portrayed as a damned nuisance who kept chopping down a flagpole.

Never mind that he was a complex man from remarkable and challenging times for his people, a leader of strengths and weaknesses no doubt, with a legitimate cause, incredible pressures and fine lines to tread around.

Back to sport. I don't hear similar Warriors-style racist stuff associated with professional rugby anymore, but I'm not so sure those attitudes don't still exist somewhere.

The deposed Blues coach Pat Lam, of Samoan heritage, certainly felt they did last year.

A possible conclusion: we are a country that is still growing up, and we sure have some growing to do.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

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