Belinda Feek is a NZ Herald reporter

NZ Rugby culture 'not entirely healthy'; brand expert

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith has been stood down for a week by his team after having a sexual encounter with a woman in a disabled toilet. Photo / File
All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith has been stood down for a week by his team after having a sexual encounter with a woman in a disabled toilet. Photo / File

Repeated inappropriate incidents involving some of the country's top players is creating a culture that's "not entirely healthy" a brand expert says.

The comments from Dr Sandra Smith, a branding expert at the University of Auckland's Business School, come as NZ Rugby has to deal with the fallout over All Black Aaron Smith's sexual encounter with a woman who was not his partner, in a disabled toilet in Christchurch Airport two weeks ago as the team were about to fly to South Africa.

She said the rugby union needed to deal with the issue immediately. "It's something that's showing some kind of culture that's going on internally that perhaps isn't entirely healthy.

"There may also be questions around what sort of cultures are really being bred, there may be that question coming from the general public - what's going on that causes this kind of culture?"

Dr Smith said while on a human level she had no judgment around Smith's actions - as "people do stuff outside their relationships that is none of our business" - the problem was the fact he is an All Black.

"When it's an All Black and when it's in a public way where people are noticing it does tend to spill over into their brand image and then the wider brand image of the All Blacks and then the All Blacks is representing the New Zealand brand so that's the issue here."

Dr Smith said inappropriate actions by top level rugby players were beginning to create a "collective narrative" in the way they were perceived by the public.

"It starts to build up a story which probably isn't going to help the rugby brand, people start to remember things ... they build up a collective profile, so it's not just what the individual does within that team, it's collectively what we're remembering."

It also didn't help Smith's toilet rendezvous occurred so soon after the Chiefs stripper debacle, she said.

Although New Zealanders' morals were "a lot looser in today's society" the public still held the feet of sports icons and celebrities "against the fire a bit more perhaps than we do with ordinary life."

There was also the added complexity of inappropriateness of the incident occurring in a disabled toilet, she said.

She also expects the social media impact to be "huge" and now it was a case of NZ Rugby managing it in a way that was open, honest and apologetic and letting it blow up and not playing it down too much in a way that might annoy people.

- NZ Herald

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