Complaint over sports commentators' 'racist' manglings of Pasifika names

8:16 am on 16 May 2016

The recent Pacific Island Rugby League Internationals have thrown up accusations of racism amid complaints over commentators not pronouncing Pasifika names correctly.

The captains of PNG, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji pose before the Pacific Test.

The captains of PNG, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji pose before the Pacific Test. Photo: Facebook / NRL - National Rugby League

New Zealand's Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) says it has complained to Australia's Fox Sports about the broadcast.

Last week the national teams of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga faced off in Sydney.

PIMA chair Will 'Ilolahia said many of their members turned the sound off the broadcast as they were disgusted with the pronunciation of the Pacific names.

"They were just butchering the names and even laughing at some of it as they were saying it, and that's not just on.

"To me it qualifies as a racist act because racism is when one particular culture or race feels that they can dominate the other and through Te Reo, language, it's just another method of perpetuating that racism so that's why we have actually said it's racist."

Mr 'Ilolahia said although commentators have struggled with names for years, with the increasing presence of Pasifika at the elite level, it was time for broadcasters to step up.

Rugby broadcaster Fauono Ken Laban agreed.

"The diverse nature of the make up of our society and our elite sporting teams is a reflection of what's going to happen in the future, so those broadcasters, in my view, who are incapable or don't even attempt, I would like to think that their position in mainstream broadcasting is limited."

Mr Laban said he only knew two commentators who personally approached him for advice on pronunciation. He said he understood why people may see the commentary as racist.

"And in some cases it maybe right. You know if you have got people who have been commentating for a long time and as the sport continues to evolve and become diverse and they make no attempt to change with it, the only conclusion you can reach at some point is that they are either ignorant or racist. There's probably a fine line between the two."

But former Kiwi and Samoan league international Tony Puletua said it was more about education.

"It's a very touchy subject when you bring racism into it. I think it's just a lack of education for some people. Now at first-grade level you have 42 percent of players in the NRL are Polynesian or Pacific background. It's probably not a bad idea to learn."

Mr Puletua said many Pasifika were used to people getting their names wrong, even their closest friends.

Veteran broadcaster John McBeth said he was not surprised by the complaints.

He said New Zealand commentators were not perfect but the Australians were much worse.

"Australian commentators really give the impression that they couldn't care less. That they look at a word, a name, and say it probably sounds something like this, let's go with that, without any endeavour to check. So it doesn't surprise me, in fact I am quite pleased that there have been complaints about it."

Mr McBeth said one of the first international rugby matches he commentated was against Fiji. He said he recalls practising with a Fijian list of names and approaching locals for advice.

"I remember seeing, how come a 'C' sounds like a 'Th' and I thought 'oh my gosh', so I wrote all these things down. The other day when I was sifting through some old books of mine I found that copy that I had taken from that hotel, so it's lasted 30 years with me, so it's been a good guide."

Mr McBeth said broadcasters needed to be professional.

"It's part of a commentator's brief, is to pronounce all names as correctly as possible. Whether it's Pacific island, African or Asian, you've got to spend a lot of time, it's part of being a commentator."

The Pacific Islands Media Association said it had offered to train broadcasters on Pacific pronunciation.

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