NZ Rugby urged to guide corporate interests in respectful use of Māori cultural property after past abuses.

Māori researchers say the haka Ka Mate needs more protection from "disrespectful" commercial use ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year.

In a pre-tournament promotional video for the Rugby World Cup 2015, British clothing company Jacomo ran a "Hakarena" campaign, which mashed together the Macarena song with Ka Mate lyrics and gestures, and involved English rugby players.

Major RWC 2015 sponsor Heineken also ran a promotional video which showed a "Fight or Flight" competition, which displayed amateur performances of Ka Mate.

Massey University physical education lecturer Jeremy Hapeta said while there were laws in New Zealand to protect disrespectful use of Ka Mate, they did not apply overseas.

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With the World Cup in Japan later this year, Hapeta feared there could be more misuses, and was calling for New Zealand Rugby to guide global corporations and sponsors in relation to accessing and attributing the haka to the appropriate iwi and people.

"Haka can be used for celebrations, protests, acknowledgement and an expression of identity that may align with nationality, ethnicity, sub-culture, a movement or a brand," Hapeta said.

But the benefits of pūrākau, or narratives, embedded within haka, tended to be absent in sports marketing.

"Our research found when seeing the mana of Māori trampled on in an international commercial campaign, it can harm the wellbeing of our communities," Hapeta said.

"We can't continue to turn a blind eye to the disrespectful ways that haka are used for commercial purposes."

He, and colleagues Dr Farah Palmer and Dr Yusuke Kuroda, interviewed Māori experts on the commercialisation of haka in sport.

They spoke to members of iwi Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa, who were closely associated with Ka Mate.

Ka Mate was composed by the Ngāti Toa rangatira (chief) Te Rauparaha, a descendant of Hoturoa who was captain of the Tainui canoe.

The haka had been performed by All Blacks teams in various degrees since 1905, more widely since the 1980s and featured heavily in NZ Rugby advertising.

Massey University lecturer Jeremy Hapeta said while there were laws in New Zealand to protect disrespectful use of the haka Ka Mate, they did not apply overseas. Photo / David Wiltshire
Massey University lecturer Jeremy Hapeta said while there were laws in New Zealand to protect disrespectful use of the haka Ka Mate, they did not apply overseas. Photo / David Wiltshire

In 2011 the New Zealand Rugby Union and Ngāti Toa signed a memorandum of understanding around the use of the haka Ka Mate.

Chief executive Steve Tew said at the time the agreement confirmed Ngāti Toa's support for the All Blacks' Ka Mate haka.

"It gives the NZRU some certainty regarding its ongoing use of Ka Mate, while at the same time providing some assurances to Ngāti Toa that use of the haka will be respectful."

In New Zealand, Ka Mate was protected under the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act 2014, which acknowledged the importance of Ka Mate to Ngāti Toa and required attribution to the iwi, including commercial uses of Ka Mate.

This act came out of the WAI 262 claim to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1991, regarding indigenous flora and fauna and Māori cultural intellectual property.

Hapeta said NZ Rugby had done "amazing work" in the cultural sphere, including establishing a kaitiaki group for haka within the All Blacks, and employing a full-time Māori cultural adviser.

But he wanted to see them take it a step further and guide corporate sponsors overseas.

Another example the researchers looked at was during the 2016 ASB Classic in Auckland, where several high-profile All Blacks provided top international women's tennis star Caroline Wozniaki with a personal haka lesson.

Hapeta said Wozniaki was encouraged to poke out her tongue, which was against Māori custom as wāhine did not normally do that.

"This scenario demonstrated an example of corporate sponsors dislocating a distinctive local ritual from its cultural meaning," Hapeta said.

Hapeta said the Government could also take a stronger stance by advocating for haka protection through the World Intellectual Property Organisation's committee on traditional knowledge.

A Ngāti Toa spokeswoman said the performance of Ka Mate by the All Blacks "remains a source of pride for the iwi".

It was important the haka was treated with respect, and anybody wanting to use the haka was asked to review the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act 2014 Guidelines, she said.

Commercial exploitation of Māori cultural and intellectual property was "an issue" they hoped could be resolved alongside the Government as part of its response to the WAI 262 claim, and through the review of the Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act 2014.