Editorial: NZ Rugby rues its deficient inquiry and weak response

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand Rugby's chief executive Steve Tew has conceded, "we have not got it right". Its press conference this week, announcing the findings of its general counsel's investigation of the Chiefs' treatment of a stripper and the union's subsequent action, has not satisfied many. It has left, "thousands of New Zealanders questioning the culture of our favourite sport and those in charge of it," said 25 women who put their names to an open letter to rugby's management and board, published in the Herald yesterday.

They included Louse Nicholas, who exposed the worst of that culture in the police, Dr Jackie Blue, a former National MP and now Equal Opportunities Commissioner, and Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner. They have offered to work with the rugby's leaders to improve attitudes to women.

If many in rugby resent the insinuation that the behaviour of a few of the Chiefs (how many?) is typical of the game, they have the deficiencies of their leaders' response to blame.

The way the investigation was handled, and its weak conclusion suggests the game's administrators have not taken it seriously enough.

First, why was the investigation given to their own lawyer rather than put in the hands of somebody with independent standing? Preferably a professional investigator. Ideally a woman.

Secondly, why did the investigation not interview the complainant before talking to the players? That is fundamental procedure for a professional investigation of any sort.

Tew has explained they did not think they needed to talk to the woman first because they had worked on what she had told news media. The media has no need to report the more lurid details of incidents such as these and readers do not want "too much information". But a proper investigation needs to find out precisely what happened. And it is wasting its time interrogating the accused party until it knows precisely what is alleged.

When criticism of the investigation prompted Radio NZ to air its interview with the stripper Scarlette in full, the police found her allegations serious enough to become involved. Having twice spoken to her when she first made known what had happened at the Chiefs' function, they now intend to speak to her again. If NZ Rugby hoped the "actions" they have taken would be the end of the matter, they must be sorely disappointed.

Compounding the deficiencies of their investigation, their announcement of its findings on Wednesday was vague in the extreme and gave mixed messages. Tew said the Chiefs had been exonerated of any blame, the inquiry had found what happened to be "legal and consensual", but that it was inappropriate for professional rugby teams to engage in events of this nature and players should take collective responsibility. In other words, their offence was to engage a stripper, not their treatment of her.

Their penalty is a "black mark" on their careers.But in fact none will suffer this "black mark" because few beyond rugby circles will know which ones were the idiots.
Yesterday a contrite Tew acknowledged that those who ran the sport were concerned for Scarlette's wellbeing.

He had offered her support, as well as a woman linked to a Chiefs event last year. Somewhat belatedly he remarked: " If we've hurt either of these women then we apologise." Tew seems prepared to work with women's advocates and says he would hand anything illegal to police. The episode shows the game could do with some repair work.

- NZ Herald

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