Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Stupidity spoils the party

The Chiefs squad have been engulfed in controversy for the past week. Photo / Photosport
The Chiefs squad have been engulfed in controversy for the past week. Photo / Photosport

The Chiefs aren't brimming with bad eggs driving a bad culture, but their moral compass has pointed them in the wrong direction at least twice in the past year.

As the details emerge about their end-of-season shindig last year, it would seem they did a bad thing. And from what is already known about last weekend, they did another bad thing. A really bad thing - and that's not jumping the gun ahead of the investigation into the full scale of events at Okoroire Hot Springs.

Lock Michael Allardice has already admitted his guilt in regard to making homophobic comments. Nor is anyone from the club denying the players were drinking heavily or that a stripper was hired.

That is enough in itself to condemn everyone connected to those decisions of gross stupidity and a gigantic failure to behave to acceptable standards. And in the court of public opinion, it's enough for the Chiefs to be branded as a club out of control, a team that behaves with a pack mentality and disdain for the notion they are subject to the same social contracts as everyone else.

The picture isn't that clear, however, as the Chiefs under coach Dave Rennie have been the professional game's leaders in fostering genuine bonds with the wider community. Their end-of-season behaviour has been inexcusably bad but that, to those who have invested in the team, is as surprising as it is disappointing.

The club have a genuine issue to fix in regard to their thinking on how to celebrate the end of a campaign, but that shouldn't be read as the Chiefs being morally bereft or horribly out of touch. Nor should it lead to conclusions that the wider landscape of professional rugby is broken.

There are, every year, a handful of professional players who fail to meet the standards of behaviour expected and make headlines for the wrong reasons.

But that will never be eradicated. Young men are human and no sport or business can legislate - no matter how hard they try - against people doing what they patently shouldn't.

But what's happened with the Chiefs shouldn't be seen as symptomatic of a rotten culture in the game where everyone - players, management and administrators - condone heavy drinking and abusive and predatory behaviour, explaining it away with a boys-will-be-boys shrug of the shoulders.

In the past decade, rugby has cleaned itself up beyond recognition. The worst aspects of the amateur game have been ousted - the institutionalised rituals of initiation ceremonies, court sessions and drink as reward mentality have been stopped.

Most clubs - other than the Chiefs - have banned the idea of a 'Mad Monday' session to end a campaign.

Heavy investment has been made in educating players around acceptable alcohol use, social media activity, drugs and gambling.

Teams have protocols that are clear and instil strong messages about the need for players to conduct themselves sensibly and respectfully, both individually and collectively, at all times.

And it's because there has been a concerted and successful campaign to improve awareness and standards in professional rugby teams which makes the events of last weekend all the more shocking.

Rob Nichol, who heads the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association and has been instrumental in driving rugby's revolution, says it's vital no one tries to hide from this incident with the Chiefs.

"We won't let this slide," he says. "We won't shy away from this and that's important to emphasise.

"We need to use this incident to reinforce the standards of behaviour we expect and be clear that there are things that will not be tolerated. Some bad decisions were clearly made."

When Nichol says no one can hide, he also means that should it emerge that some or even all of the accusations made about players' behaviour turn out to be untrue, that can't exonerate the club.

No matter what else emerges, it won't change the fact the biggest mistake of the night was to hire the stripper in the first place. Even if the show had passed without incident, the message from Nichol is that it is not OK for professional rugby teams to bring that element into their celebrations.

The role of management also has to be put under scrutiny. While there is corroboration that no Chiefs management or support staff were in attendance, they did, however, know there were plans for the players to have a mass get-together to farewell the season.

And it's in knowing but choosing not to take control that the Chiefs management is likely to be adjudged to have failed when the investigation is complete.

For management not to have taken responsibility to ensure the planning was appropriate and reasonable was the second-biggest mistake of the night.

Players, mostly, keep the lid on pretty tight during the season and there is a legitimate expectation they should be able to enjoy themselves and unwind after a long and demanding campaign.

History has shown the lid can blow off with spectacularly bad consequences if it is allowed to and that post-season celebrations are best advised to be in controlled environments with ample supervision.

Once the business of finding out exactly what happened is finished, the important thing, says Nichol, is that all professional teams and players take heed of the lessons.

Being a good citizen requires a consistent commitment and, no matter how many times a message is drummed in, it can always be emphasised once more.

- Herald on Sunday

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