Do Maori deserve an apology for exclusion from All Blacks?

By Michael Dickison

All Black great george Nepia was among those excluded from touring South Africa. Photo / NZH
All Black great george Nepia was among those excluded from touring South Africa. Photo / NZH

The New Zealand Rugby Union has been criticised for refusing to apologise for not selecting Maori players in All Blacks squads that toured South Africa between 1928 and 1960.

Earlier this year Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples suggested the gesture from the NZRU would be an appropriate way to mark the 100th anniversary of Maori rugby.

The issue was again raised by NZ Herald columnist Chris Rattue today, who said it was high time Maori received an apology for racist selection policies between 1928 and 1960.

The Maori rugby team first played the Springboks in Napier in 1921, after which a South African correspondent wired to Cape Town that the Springboks were "frankly disgusted", particularly at seeing white New Zealanders cheering on a "coloured" team.

The NZRU subsequently excluded Maori from All Blacks' tours to South Africa in 1928, 1949 and 1960.

The issue has drawn heated debate over the past 80 years. Here are the views of some of those who have weighed in:

2010

Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples: "The refusal of the NZRU to apologise to those Maori All Blacks who were dropped from teams to play against the Springboks because of the South African apartheid policies demonstrates the gross arrogance of the rugby union towards the Maori people.

"In this year, celebrating 100 years of Maori rugby, it would seem such a small but appropriate gesture for the NZRU to apologise."

NZRU Maori Board chairman Wayne Peters : "The board officially considered the matter twice. While it was aware of the reaction its decision might provoke, it decided it was more important in the centenary year of Maori rugby to focus on celebrations rather than political issues from the past that would never occur today."

Former All Black and Maori team captain Bill Bush: "Maori have been pushed aside a bit. [NZRU] didn't have a game for us last year, which upset a lot of Maori ... it's the right time to apologise. [But] I will wait until the end of the rugby season."

1981

Springboks manager Johan Claassen: Apologised to all Maoris who had not been allowed to tour South Africa, including Maori rugby legends George Nepia and Johnny Smith.


1963

Maori rugby legend George Nepia, who was excluded from the 1928 team: "Most of all, perhaps, we were saddened, disappointed and humiliated by the attitude of the body, namely the New Zealand Rugby Union, which purported to be our guide, philosopher and friend."

1960

Prime Minister Walter Nash: Supported the rugby union's decision to exclude Maori - to have them on the squad "would be an act of the greatest folly and cruelty to the Maori race." (nzhistory.net.nz).

1949

Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger: "I had Maoris under my command for two years, and in that time they had 1500 casualties, and I'm not going to acquiesce to any dammed Afrikaners saying they cannot go."

1937

Springboks vice captain Dr Danie Craven, when a Maori man greeted him upon his arrival in Auckland saying, "I'm a Maori. Will you shake my hand?": "I am very glad to meet you."


1925

Akarana Maori Association, after NZRU chairman Stan Dean announced Maori would be excluded from the 1928 touring All Blacks: The tour would be "a slur on the dignity and manhood of the Maori."

1921

South African correspondent Charles Blackett, after the Springboks played the Maori team in Napier: "Most unfortunate match ever played. Bad enough having to play team officially designated New Zealand natives but spectacle thousands Europeans frantically cheering on band of coloured men to defeat members of own race was too much for Springboks, who frankly disgusted."

Prominent Maori anthropologist Sir Peter Buck: "To everyone with Maori blood in his veins the so-called grievance of the Springboks against playing a Maori team is an unmitigated insult. If a team of reputed sports will not make honourable amends and still persist in the curious attitude of drawing a colour line in sport in this country, then the New Zealand Rugby Union should, by not extending future invitations in South Africa, protect its Maori supporters and their friends from further gratuitous insult."

Quotes sourced from the Sunday Star-Times, nzhistory.net.nz, Malcolm Mulholland's Beneath the Maori Moon and George Nepia's I, George Nepia.

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