By VANESSA BIDOIS
A Tainui leader says he is worried at racial undertones of claims by sacked Warriors chairman Graham Lowe that Maori will struggle to run the multimillion-dollar club.
The Waikato iwi pushed aside Mr Lowe and fellow board member Malcolm Boyle on Tuesday in a bid to take full control of one of its major assets, in which it has a two-thirds share.
Mr Lowe said on TV3 that the Tainui takeover was the worst-case scenario.
"The club's been run by a bunch of Maoris from the Waikato with ... no rugby league experience whatsoever.
"I worry that they'll start trying to pull some strings and give the club operational directives which they know nothing about."
The Warriors have cost Tainui $6.5 million since 1998, and could need a further $4 million in the next two years.
Mr Lowe and Mr Boyle paid only $100,000 for their one-third share. They will remain part of the Warriors' parent company, Rugby League People.
But they have been replaced on the club's board by Tainui legal adviser Shane Solomon and financial adviser Michael Stiassny, who will join Niwa Nuri, Rick Muru and Whatihua Herangi.
Mr Solomon, Mr Stiassny and Mr Nuri are also members of Tainui's strategy committee, which is leading a restructuring of the tribe's investments after a $40 million writedown.
Mr Solomon said yesterday that the racial undertones of Mr Lowe's comments were unprofessional.
"It's disappointing to hear those statements, but we know who we are and where we're from, and we're proud of it."
Tainui beneficiary and former MP Tukoroirangi Morgan has also criticised the Tainui board members for their lack of business expertise, but Mr Solomon said the board had a balance of skills.
Mr Muru and Mr Herangi had grassroots rugby league experience, while Mr Stiassny and Mr Nuri had accountancy and legal backgrounds.
The Warriors' management team, including chief executive Trevor McKewen and coach Mark Graham, were more than experienced enough to lead the club, Mr Solomon said. "I think it's actually added more to the board, but if we find league experience on the board is an issue, then we'll deal with it and bring someone in."
Alliance MP and former radio sports show presenter Willie Jackson said people should not be scared by the fact that the board was dominated by Maori.
Tainui could do no worse than the Warriors' former Australian boss, Ian Robson, and deserved the opportunity to run such an operation, Mr Jackson said.
"I don't believe there should have been an investment in the Warriors in the first place," he said. "But now that they have and now that they've taken full control of the board, good luck to them."
Mr Solomon said the tribe was ready to pay overdue payments of $400,000 to the Auckland Rugby League "but there hasn't been a completion of the paperwork at the ARL side."
By VANESSA BIDOIS