Damning Black Ferns rugby report not a surprise to anyone, say critics

Chantal Bakersmith
Māori/Pasifika community rugby representative Chantal Bakersmith ... "Planning for women's rugby ... you really had to push your case for it to be thought about." Image: RNZ

By Eleisha Foon and Susana Suisuiki, RNZ Pacific journalists

Māori and Pasifika female rugby players and advocates are asking to not be an afterthought.

Māori/Pasifika community rugby representative Chantal Bakersmith said the latest New Zealand Rugby (NZR) report highlighting issues surrounding the treatment of Black Ferns players was not surprising.

A scathing review released this week by NZR raised concerns within Black Ferns’ culture and environment and said Māori and Pacific players had been badly served by both team management and the governing body.

Bakersmith, who has developed pilot programmes for women’s rugby within NZR, said the issues were not new.

“Planning for women’s rugby, it was always an afterthought, and you really had to push your case for it to be thought about,” she said.

“And then there was always this feeling that because I’m questioning things I’m an agitator or being a pain — but there’s a population that hasn’t been served or thought about.”

The review was a result of Black Ferns hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, who shared a social media post saying the Black Ferns head coach Glenn Moore told her she did not deserve to be on the team, and was “picked only to play the guitar”.

Cultural competency needed
Rugby advocate Alice Soper said Pākehā coaches needed to understand cultural competency and be able to relate to their players.

“Any excuse around ignorance is just arrogance,” she said.

“We live in a time where there is multiple things that you can access to upskill yourself and if you are a Pākehā coach and you are going into a team that is predominantly Māori or Pasifika then you need to be upskilling yourself — that is a basic part of your role.”

Soper said changed behaviour and the removal of the current coach was a must. It was understood that Moore would remain as the head coach until at least the Women’s World Cup in October.

However, female rugby players also need to take accountability of their own performance, said former Black Ferns representative Regina Sheck.

Sheck, who played prop for the Black Ferns from 1994 to 2004, said the NZR review seems to be about a communication issue rather than a management issue.

She said a lot of the ownership of not being selected comes down to the players themselves.

“If you haven’t put in the effort then don’t be surprised if you don’t get the call-out,” she said.

‘Take a look at themselves’
“Players need to take a look at themselves — well that’s just life in general. Don’t throw stones if you live in a glasshouse.

“What’s happened since the Black Ferns started to get paid, and this is how I look at it, this could also go back through to NZR as well — is that there hasn’t been any development.”

Despite the report, Bakersmith said that there were some initiatives that NZR had created to ensure rugby culture was more inclusive for women.

“There’s a programme called Ako Wāhine, and it’s fully focused on upskilling or recruiting women from all different parts of rugby experience — whether as a manager or as a player or as a coach, anybody.”

“They had the first cohort rollout last year and you’ll see these cohorts throughout the community and across the country, so that’s positive.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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