Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Maori tour of South Africa better than apology

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Sending the New Zealand Maori team on a tour of South Africa would be a great way to celebrate Maori rugby. Photo / Chris Skelton
Sending the New Zealand Maori team on a tour of South Africa would be a great way to celebrate Maori rugby. Photo / Chris Skelton

For heaven's sake, let's get rid of this apology to Maori thing. It's gone on far too long, has become highly politicised and, as is the way of a murky past, different people remember different things.

Here's how we move on - arrange in this, the centenary year of Maori rugby, a Maori tour of South Africa. An old-fashioned tour; where they play provincial sides as well as 'tests' against the Springboks.

The South Africans these days would love it; it would be great rugby, great TV and a fine way to celebrate the unique, compelling thing that is Maori rugby.

So I'm not begging the New Zealand Rugby Union for an apology - that horse has probably bolted.

A forced apology is no apology at all; it's a tactic, designed to buy space and time until the issue is forgotten; with no real notion of sincerity, forgiveness and intention never to repeat the error.

No, do something positive; something that assures us all that the NZRU still believes in Maori rugby and that it will not slip back into the ignominy of 2009.

Last year, Maori rugby = zero; nil, nada, nothing. The NZRU's belief in Maori rugby 2009 seemed about as credible as Michael Laws' views on child restraint in cars.

In 2010, why ... it's centenary time ... lights, bells, whistles and all manner of support. Just tell us it won't descend back into nothingness in 2011 and thereafter - arrange a tour of South Africa, even if some years hence. Make the apology then, if you like, when it will seem - and possibly even be - genuine.

That will mean more to all parties than any wretched apology at the end of a pointed political stick.

The concept of an apology to Maori was born of a book published around the centenary and was leapt gleefully upon by politicians of all creeds, colour and types.

Even the Maori view on this appears to be split - some want an apology; others, like former All Black great Waka Nathan (one of the Maori affected by non-selection) don't.

The fullback of the 1956 Maori whipped 37-0 by the touring Springboks, Bishop Muru Walters, said a member of the government, Minister of Maori Affairs Ernest Corbett, told the Maori team pre-game that they could not beat the Boks or New Zealand would never be invited to travel to the republic again. Maori captain that day, Tiny Hill, says he never heard any such thing.

Claims have emerged regarding the 1981 game against the Springboks. What, did the Maori never just lose a game? Was it always a fix?

Now there is a contention that a 1976 test was lost because of a Maori being targeted (see Michael Brown, p80-81).

Let's get rid of all the posturing and confusion and do something concrete. Apologies have become a modern phenomenon; a kind of popcorn catharsis. Everyone is apologising about everything these days and, like too much of anything, it loses its effectiveness when overdone.

Look at Tiger Woods' apology - heartfelt, genuine? Or self-serving and he's really only sorry he got caught? The globe is divided.

What about an apology from Michael Laws for attempting to defend the indefensible? More than ever, he appears to be The Man Who Cannot Be Wrong. An apology from him now would similarly seem forced.

Germany apologised for the Holocaust and for World War II and has continued to make repentant references. Chancellor Willy Brandt fell to his knees in front of the memorial of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto in 1970.

Powerful stuff but not even a continuing apology can remove the stain of the millions of dead. Of far more effect is Germany's vigilance in seeking to prevent the rise of Nazism again and reparations of about US$70 billion paid to Israel.

How far back do we go? Shall we extract an apology from the direct descendants of Henry the VIII for killing all those women?

He was one of the most successful serial killers of all time - let's get good old Queen Elizabeth to apologise on behalf of all royalty for King Syphilis Gut Bucket Wife Murderer the Eighth.

You see, apologies are fine but action is better.

I must also confess to feeling a bit sorry for the poor old NZRU. They've done well lately, with rugby finally appearing to take large steps in the right direction after years of marching to its own beat, slow reactions and pig-headedness. The admission of Argentina to the Tri Nations, thus making it the Four Nations in 2012; new measures to liven up the game; and the possibility of selecting players in Europe are moves of common sense and judgement.

For a long time, rugby couldn't even grow the game in Argentina, the country that finished third in the World Cup in 2007 (ahead of the All Blacks, in case you've been living on Planet Blerg and missed it).

So they'd done well and then the NZRU and poor old Steve Tew get visited with the notion that they should apologisefor something they will feel they didn't do - and would never do.

Sadly, however, the lack of nimbleness has again pitched them back into the perception of the NZRU "Kremlin" in Wellington - the stronghold where grey men of grey character were perceived to address their own issues, and bugger anyone else's.

In years past, the NZRU council would meet regularly and hold a press conference. After the press conference - notable for its steadfast refusal to divulge anything of substance - they would invite the media for drinks and off-the-record discussion.

I used to travel down to these; they were a good chance to get to know what was going on. But, over the years, the intransigence of the NZRU in not saying anything became wearying. There was chairman Jack Sullivan, famous for being known as "No Comment" Sullivan. There was the intensely honourable and gentlemanly Ces Blazey, who was nonetheless skilled in saying little.

Then chairman Russ Thomas took over. I went to one council meeting where, after the press conference, the genial Thomas arrived at drinks and was surrounded by councillors shaking his hand, one of them congratulating him for having fended off the media and saying nothing about the issues of the day.

I put down my drink and left; never attended another.

Sadly, this whole apology business has taken the NZRU back to those dark days. Genuine action is needed to right this wrong and to safeguard one of the jewels in the New Zealand rugby crown - the Maori game.

- NZ Herald

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