‘Performing monkeys for colonial institutions’ – Pacific adviser quits NZ Rugby

Pakilau Manase Lua
Pakilau Manase Lua . . . "They (NZR) made us a toothless advisory group with no power, no voice and no representation on the board." Image: RNZ Pacific/Lydia Lewis

By Eleisha Foon, RNZ Pacific senior journalist

Prominent Pasifika community leader Pakilau Manase Lua has resigned from New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) Pasifika Advisory Group, saying it is “unacceptable” for there still to be no Pacific representation on the board.

Pakilau officially resigned from NZR’s PAG on Thursday night.

“They (NZR) made us a toothless advisory group with no power, no voice and no representation on the board. I said to them I am not happy and I don’t want to be just warming a seat,” he told RNZ Pacific.

He posted the reasons for his resignation today on Facebook. He said NZR called him, asking for the post to be removed, but he declined.

RNZ Pacific has contacted NZR and its various board members for comment. We are yet to receive a response.

However, in a statement to Pacific Media Network, the union said: “NZR acknowledges the huge contribution of Pasifika on the field and recognises that this is not reflected in equitable representation across non-playing roles, including governance.”

“NZR is currently supporting its voting members through a process of reform which will see a modern governance model for rugby that reflects greater diversity across gender, background and ethnicity.

“The NZR Board is committed to seeing culturally diverse voices at all levels of this governance model.

“NZR has recognised Pasifika as a priority area for the organisation and launched a Pasifika Strategy in November 2023 to enable, embrace and empower positive outcomes for Pasifika in rugby. The implementation of a year one action plan is already underway and reflects a long-term commitment.”

NZ Rugby
New Zealand Rugby . . . “NZR has recognised Pasifika as a priority area for the organisation and launched a Pasifika Strategy in November 2023.” Image: NZR/RNZ

‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’
Pakilau told RNZ Pacific his resignation “was not an overreaction” but a response that “was three years in the making”.

He said the PAG committee sent a letter to the NZR Board about their concerns.

“They never got back to us” and “that was the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

He said that NZR “continues to disrespect the contribution of Pacific Islanders to rugby in New Zealand by not having them in management or in the board, despite Pacific Islanders contributing almost 40 percent of players to the New Zealand All Blacks, Black Ferns and sevens teams”.

“We are only used when needed, seen as performing monkeys for colonial institutions. They take us for granted. Good PR but actually there is nothing there.”

Last year, the NZR launched its Pasifika Rugby Strategy, which aims to develop Pacific Islanders in the local rugby circle to take up leadership roles in coaching, refereeing, management and boards.

NZR chair Dame Patsy Reddy said then that the organisation was focused on enhancing environments that were prepared to embrace Pasifika and their values.

‘Pasifika people bleed on the rugby field’
But Lua said despite the strategy he believed Pasifika were still “not being heard”.

“We deserve a seat at the table. Those days of being seat warmers are over.

“They seem to be ignoring [the Pasifika Rugby Strategy]. They want to set up an independent board with no representation from the grassroots, no representation from Pasifika, despite our massive contributions and disrespecting the manna of our Tausoa Fa’atasi strategy.

“They don’t bother to respect the fact that our Pasifika people bleed on the rugby field but then don’t have representation on the Board.”

He said he has been on the PAG for three years.

“We have been saying from day one that we need to make sure the Pacific Island voices are heard.”

He said it was an insult to the Pacific Island community that NZR still did not recognise those who had the experience, skills and the knowledge to sit on boards here in New Zealand.

Pakilau said there were enough experienced Pasifika Islanders in New Zealand to take up a position on the board and perform as expected.

“It’s all about money. They are there already controlling hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.

The NZR Pacific Advisory Group includes Eric Nima Nabalagi, Fonoti Seti Talamaivao, Savae La’auli Sir Michael Jones, Seiuli Fiao’o Fa’amausili and Saveatama Eroni Clarke.

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

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