The Human Rights Commission has waded into New Zealand's racism in rugby row.

A series of recent incidents in the West Coast has led to players, administrators and supporters speaking out against racial abuse from players and spectators at rugby games.

Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy says racism isn't just a rugby issue - it's a countrywide problem.

"Racial abuse isn't just a problem in rugby or sport, it's a New Zealand problem," she said. "A third of our complaints are to do with racial discrimination but we know many more people never complain formally about so-called "casual" racial abuse.


"NZ Rugby has a high profile campaign that puts the spotlight on abusive behaviour and this will encourage people to speak out which is a good thing: we can't address a problem if we don't acknowledge it's there."

A rugby club defaulted on a match last Saturday to protest against the West Coast Rugby Union failing to act on complaints about alleged racial abuse.

The South Westland Stags Rugby Club senior team called off its match with Hokitika club Kiwi over an issue relating to on-field incidents during a match with Kiwi about two months ago.

Devoy believed racism should not be tolerated anywhere in our society.

"We should all be grateful for New Zealanders who call out those of us who think racial abuse is OK: whether it's on a sports field, or a bus or on the street," she said.

"Ugly racial abuse isn't part of our Kiwi culture and good on anyone or any organisation that makes a stand against it.

"We live in one of the most ethnically diverse nations on the planet as well as one of the most peaceful.

"If we are to keep it that way we need to be responsible for how we treat one another, we don't need to look too far to see what happens if racial intolerance goes unchallenged."