Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Even best systems can't stop scandals

Aaron Smith during a training session at Eden Park Photo: Andrew Cornaga /
Aaron Smith during a training session at Eden Park Photo: Andrew Cornaga /

Rugby is tearing itself apart trying to find answers as to why it can't stop making front page news through the off-field actions of its players.

It's understandable why there is a high level of concern about the culture within the game: is it institutionally misogynistic? Is there an accepted code of disrespecting women and mocking the notion of inclusivity and diversity?

The last few months have rocked the New Zealand Rugby. First there was the strippergate business with the Chiefs; then the Losi Filipo case which was still simmering when news of Aaron Smith's toilet tryst broke and a few days later it was revealed that a player from Mid-Canterbury was charged with assault with intent to commit rape.

In the court of public opinion, the NZR has already been tried and convicted of failing to do enough to promote the right attitudes. Rugby in general has been branded as a sport with an inherent problem in respect of tolerance and being able to impose upon its players acceptable standards of behaviour.

This is why NZR has signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a panel that will review the current landscape and determine whether enough is being done to individually and collectively promote and foster healthy, positive attitudes towards women.

Once the parameters have been set, the focus will then move to appointing the right people to lead the project. If the review wants to be taken seriously and have any standing, then obviously that panel needs a significant and meaningful female presence.

But just as importantly the review panel needs to begin its work from the viewpoint that the game is not as morally bereft as it appears and nor is the union guilty of all it has been accused.

Contrary to events and the subsequent perception formed, New Zealand's professional players are exposed to one of the more comprehensive education programmes in the world game. Maybe NZR can be accused of not working smart in light of recent events, but it can't be said it hasn't worked hard in this area.

And nor has it worked in isolation. The New Zealand Rugby Players' Association has been instrumental in drilling good advice into players and it starts from First XV level.

The programmes in place to help young men understand their responsibilities are quite phenomenally detailed and well resourced and it is doubtful whether any other significant rugby nation has invested as much in this area as New Zealand.

And yet, the last few months paint an entirely different picture and rightfully, prompt all right-minded souls to ask why so many incidents which have demeaned and humiliated women, have occurred?

If young men are given lessons in behavioural expectations and clear guidelines on what is and isn't respectful and inclusive, why don't they all get it and live by that code? The answer probably doesn't lie with any systemic failing on the NZR's part - although their review may well find they could do more or different initiatives - but because young rugby players are human and some will make mistakes. Some will make terrible mistakes but that's no different to any other profession or walk of life.

This sad fact doesn't condone those who transgress but highlights that no system can mitigate against the flaws of nature.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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