14 May 2010

Rugby greats welcome apology to Maori

10:25 pm on 14 May 2010

Former All Blacks Sir Colin Meads and Bill Bush have welcomed the apology by New Zealand and South African rugby unions to Maori players.

The rugby unions apologised to Maori rugby players who were excluded from All Black tours to South Africa during the apartheid era.

Sir Colin Meads was heavily involved in national rugby from the late 1950s, playing for the All Blacks from 1957 to 1971, and coaching the 1986 Cavaliers tour to South Africa.

Though he says the apology is warranted, he cautions against any backlash against those players who chose to tour South Africa.

Former All Black and captain of the New Zealand Maori rugby side Bill Bush has welcomed the apology, saying the exclusion affected Maori as a tribe and as tangata whenua.

He says while he saw the point the anti-apartheid protesters were making, he chose to play for the All Blacks in South Africa in 1976 to prove Maori are not inferior to white South Africans.

Mr Bush says its a pity the apology wasn't made at the celebrations of 100 years of Maori rugby, while anti-apartheid campaigner John Minto also says the statement would have been better made at a function rather than by media release.

Maori Affairs minister Pita Sharples also welcomed the apologies, but says they make rugby's Maori Advisory Board foolish for previously refusing to say sorry.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government was not aware of the plan to apologise but supports the move, as clearly the unions felt it was an important part of the healing process. The Government is not considering its own apology.

Meanwhile, a former All Black and captain of the unsanctioned Cavaliers side believes the apologies are unnecessary. Andy Haden says the issue is South Africa's problem and has nothing to do with the Maori players excluded from the touring All Black squads.

Unions issue apology

In a statement overnight on Thursday, South African Rugby Union (SARU) said a number of Maori rugby players became innocent victims of the racist ideology of the former government.

"Those policies also denied thousands of talented black sportsmen and women the opportunity to compete for selection for South Africa's national sports teams," union president Regan Hoskins' statement continued.

Shortly afterwards, the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) issued a statement saying it wished to say sorry to those Maori players who were not considered for selection for teams to tour South Africa or to play South Africa.

"It was a period in which the respect of New Zealand Maori rugby was not upheld and that is deeply regretted," the statement said.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew told Morning Report its apology is clear and unreserved, and says the New Zealand Maori Rugby Board also supports the apology.

The union said rugby administrators faced a difficult situation during the apartheid era and its apology was not intended as a criticism of those involved at the time.

The union acknowledged that some of the decisions were taken with good intentions, such as protecting Maori players from insult and vilification. It also apologised to New Zealand as a whole for the division that rugby's contact with South Africa caused.

Last week South Africa's Sports Minister, the Reverend Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile, told the two unions an apology was in order.