Lack of moral courage by other spectators at club games allows sideline abusers to get away with their abhorrent behaviour.

The All Blacks are as good a reflection as any of our multicultural society. Their composition, and their outstanding level of success, should long ago have made displays of racism in rugby nonsensical. Yet last weekend's Canterbury club final was marred by racial abuse hurled from the sideline at Christchurch's Fijian winger, Sake Aca. Eventually, and understandably, he was removed from the field in tears.

It would be of some comfort, but still no excuse, if this had been an isolated incident. Clearly, however, that is not totally the case. Earlier in the season, allegations of racist taunting were made after a country game between a Mid-Canterbury side, Hampstead, and North Canterbury's Saracens.

That prompted a Southbridge player, Manumanuniliwa Peni, to say he had been subjected to frequent abuse while playing for Dan Carter's club.

This type of behaviour is usually associated with the likes of English football, not rugby in New Zealand. But if racist abuse was once standard fare at stadiums such as Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, the eyes and ears of an increased number of stewards, security personnel and CCTV, and the presence of black players, have gone a long way towards eliminating the problem. Now, racist incidents are most likely to take place when football supporters are away from stadiums or at youth matches.


In both cases, the perpetrators believe the absence of security and the unlikely prospect of intervention by members of the public mean they can get away with their abhorrent behaviour.

Much the same state of affairs applies in New Zealand. Racist taunting is highly unlikely to occur at Eden Park, but some people clearly feel they will not be confronted at lower-level matches. That is a severe indictment of the other spectators at these games. This behaviour would not be possible if they voiced their disapproval at the time or, at the very least, reported the culprits after the match.

In the case of the fixture between Saracens and Hampstead, that did not happen. After an investigation, the North Canterbury sub-union said it accepted there had been racial abuse, but ruled there would be no punishment for Saracens because the culprit or culprits had not been identified.

That is a societal failing, not simply a black mark for rugby. As the Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, noted: "All of us - not just officials - are responsible for standing up to people who use racism to win in sport." There is no point in deflecting blame by calling for referees to be more active, or excusing racist remarks as the product of the heat of the moment.

In the latest incident, the Canterbury Rugby Union and the Lincoln University club, Christchurch's opponent in the final, have, again, been unable to identify the perpetrators of the abuse. The matter has, therefore, been referred to the police for investigation.

This episode must not end with another limp statement, the consequence of not one of the spectators or, indeed, the culprits having the moral courage to come forward. There can be no cover-up and no hiding place. The culprits must be named and shamed at the appropriate time. Exposing the hurlers of racist abuse to the harshest public scrutiny is the surest way of eradicating this scourge once and for all.