Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

NZ rugby targets Auckland's Asian population

Indian-Fijian rugby player Rocky Khan plays for the All Blacks Sevens. Photo / Getty Images
Indian-Fijian rugby player Rocky Khan plays for the All Blacks Sevens. Photo / Getty Images

Connecting with Auckland's growing Asian population is one of the New Zealand Rugby Union's main goals for the next three years.

In revealing the organisation's hope of broadening its horizons, chief executive Steve Tew said its future depended on it.

Asked if he would like to see an Asian represent the All Blacks, Tew replied: "We've got an Indian-Fijian [Rocky Khan] playing in the All Blacks Sevens. He's certainly the first person with any Asian ethnicity playing in the black jersey as far as I know. We cannot be relevant in Auckland or New Zealand unless we accept the fact that there's an increasing Asian influence in our population, so we need Asian people to want to play, coach, administer, watch and 'wear' our game. If we don't get that right then some time in the future we'll be irrelevant."

Ensuring rugby was the sport of choice in wider Auckland was No4 in a six-point plan for the NZRU, which has rebranded itself for "everyday" use as New Zealand Rugby.

The change had coincided with the organisation's move to new offices in Wellington and was seen as less "stuffy" according to research, Tew said.

The first two goals are performance-based and clear-cut - win the 2015 World Cup in England and win the men's and women's sevens at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Included are maintaining the financial health of the New Zealand game - and there was good news on this point with a surplus of $626,000 announced for the 14 ITM Cup provincial unions for the past financial year, a turnaround of about $1 million after the deficit of $631,000 in 2011 - making sure teenagers stayed engaged with the game, and maintaining New Zealand's global presence.

However, it was the determination to embrace Auckland's changing ethnicity which was perhaps the most surprising element to Tew's briefing today (Tues).

"We, along with other organisations, have identified that Auckland is unique and special," Tew added. "If we're going to be successful in this period of time we're going to have to recognise that it has unique challenges and opportunities for rugby. The work we put into Auckland will not be at the expense of the rest of the country but we unashamedly identify that Auckland is going to be important for us; the diversity of population, the increasing Asian community in this part of the world, the very significant role that the Polynesian community plays, means that the one-size-fits-all approach will certainly not work."

Tew said the NZRU would work with the three unions in the area - Auckland, North Harbour and Counties - to focus on secondary schools, the women's game, and Asian population.

Tew said the AIG sponsorship had played a large part in allowing the NZRU to plan with confidence, as well as improving its bottom line significantly. Full financial details will be released after next month's AGM.

He said the All Blacks' global presence was evident at the Hong Kong sevens, which he attended for the first time at the weekend. "I was incredibly amazed by the amount of All Blacks licensed products, both official and unofficial, that was being worn at the event and the city and largely by Asian people."

- APNZ

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