Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: NZ Rugby have to follow cricket's lead

NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew and Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman at a press conference on the release of the report into players behaviour at the end of season function. PHOTO/SNPA
NZ Rugby CEO Steve Tew and Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman at a press conference on the release of the report into players behaviour at the end of season function. PHOTO/SNPA

The nine-person panel appointed to steer New Zealand Rugby's respect and responsibility review would do well to read the document released by New Zealand Cricket yesterday.

The Women and Cricket, Cricket and Women report is the culmination of a year-long independent review led by Sarah Beaman, a governance advisor and former Auckland cricketer. Beaman was charged with examining not only the women's game, but also how the sport in general relates with women.

The results, in the words of NZC director Liz Dawson, who also happens to be on the NZ Rugby's review panel, were "brutal and bleak".

Beaman found female players were "a species on the verge of extinction", with women making up just 10 per cent of New Zealand's player base, and 90 per cent of those were under-12. The significant decline in the playing numbers and competition structures from teenagers to adults was attributed to the amalgamation of the women's cricket council and New Zealand Cricket in 1992 - a move that at the time was considered ground-breaking, but the net result was women were effectively sidelined from all areas of the game.

At the time of the review period, women occupied just two of the 43 board positions on major associations around the country (this number has since increased to five), while there are few pathways for female administrators, coaches and umpires.

Perhaps the most damning aspect uncovered by the review was the growing sense of disillusionment among women in the sport; the overwhelming sense that cricket is not a welcome place for them.

Beaman should be congratulated for her fortitude to unearth and voice some deeply disturbing trends.

While the report exposes a litany of failings on NZC's part, the national body can also be commended for giving Beaman the remit to present an unlaundered report and its willingness to wholeheartedly accept her findings.

NZC executives made no attempt to defend their part in allowing the women's game to get to this sorry state. Instead they issued a genuine mea culpa at yesterday's press conference in Auckland.

"Women's cricket has been sidelined. This is wrong, and we have a responsibility to put things right," said NZC chief executive David White.

Then there was this searing assessment from cricket great Sir Richard Hadlee:
"In many ways, we've shown a lack of respect and not involved past [women] players the way we should have. Quite frankly, I'm not surprised by many of the findings that have come out ... it brought to the table how remiss we have been. It appeared that for us, as an organisation, women's cricket was just too much in the too hard basket. Clearly we have made a mistake with that, and we have come very clean on it."

And Anthony Crummy, NZ Cricket's chief operating officer, had this to say:
"It's been debated at times from a cost perspective that all the revenue comes from the men's game, but actually it comes from our fans - and that's the thing we really need to acknowledge, the fans grow the value of our sport. That's why we need to grow our base so that all parts of our game grow."

Compare this reaction to that of NZ Rugby boss Steve Tew following the botched "investigation" into the Chiefs Mad Monday antics. The investigation, conducted within the echo chamber of NZ Rugby offices, stopped short of any meaningful findings, with the players essentially given a slap on the wrist for "putting themselves in a vulnerable position".

Tew then took a defensive stance when questioned about the behaviour of the team and the shortcomings of the investigation.

The Women and Cricket report demonstrates if a sport is serious about getting to the heart of its issues, independence and objectivity is a must.

While NZ Rugby's respect and responsibility review is quite different in scope and terms of reference to that which NZC undertook, the panel should aim to replicate the same willingness to present an unfiltered view of the sport. Even if it means exposing some uncomfortable truths.

- NZ Herald

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