31 May 2010

Maori Party calls on Haden to substantiate claim

10:15 pm on 31 May 2010

The Maori Party is calling on 2011 Rugby World Cup ambassador Andy Haden to substantiate claims he has made over the Crusaders' selection policy.

The former All Black has apologised for using the term "darkies", but has not resiled from his comments that the Super 14 rugby franchise restricts the number of Polynesian players in its side.

Mr Haden claimed on a sports television show last week that the Crusaders have a limit of three Polynesian players at any given time.

The Canterbury Union says the suggestion it has a race-based quota for the club is a total fabrication.

The Maori Party's sports spokesperson Te Ururoa Flavell says by refusing to name his sources, Mr Haden is potentially turning a blind eye to institutionalised racism.

"Him not substantiating those claims leaves the whole issue about him supporting institutionalised racism, which would be a very serious claim from our perspective. And if he can substantiate it, of course, there's some serious issues there as well.

"It's important that he does cough up with the information, because until that's done, there are some serious questions over his integrity."

Mr Haden will keep his job as an ambassador for the Rugby World Cup after he met with the minister responsible for the tournament, Murray McCully, at the weekend.

Following that meeting, Mr Haden released a statement repeating his apology for any offence he caused with the use of the term "darkies".

Prime Minister John Key says as long as Mr Haden is genuine in his apology, then everybody can move on.

"No doubt he will be back in the public domain very soon and he can continue, as long as he refrains from using terms that are inappropriate."

Mr Haden says he will not consider the Maori Party's request, because he is not a member and has no affiliation with it. However, he says he may consider a request for substantiation from the Crusaders' management.

Apology enough for Government

After meeting Mr Haden in Auckland on Sunday, Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully said that the two only discussed his use of the word "darkies", and that he accepted Mr Haden's apology for using it.

Mr Haden had been unprepared for the level of scrutiny he would get as an ambassador, Mr McCully said. The purpose of the ambassador programme was to generate positive outcomes and it was very unhelpful to be engaged in a controversy over the use of language.

But Mr Haden had now apologised, Mr McCully said, and that, as far as he was concerned, was the end of the matter.

The minister said that it was not for the Government to judge Mr Haden's other comment - that the Crusaders Super 14 franchise limits the number of Pacific Islanders in its squad - and that he would not wade into that debate.

I never intended to cause offence - Haden

The debate over the selection of Super 14 players was not the province of the Government, Mr McCully said, but the success of the Rugby World Cup was.

The minister said he would only become involved if the allegations were about something unlawful.

The tournament ambassadors were sportsmen, not diplomats, whose job was maximising the tourism value of the Rugby World Cup, and Mr Haden had been doing a very good job in that role, he said.

In a separate statement, Mr Haden reiterated his apology, saying it was never his intention to cause offence with his use of the term "darkies".

From now on, he said, he would try to meet the challenges posed by the greater level of scrutiny associated with the role of ambassador.

Canterbury union not satisfied

The chief executive of the Canterbury Rugby Football Union says he is not happy that Mr Haden has been allowed to keep his ambassadorial role.

Hamish Riach told Morning Report the union is unsure how far the apology goes and will discuss that on Monday, but his view is that Mr Haden's role as an ambassador has been compromised.

Mr Riach says claims that he discussed a Crusaders policy on limiting Pacific Island players with another former All Black - as claimed by Mr Haden - are outrageous and untrue.

He says the club has not decided whether to take any action, but wants to take time to mull the situation over.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Rugby Union says that its chief executive, Steve Tew, respects the minister's decision and that the quota matter is one for the Canterbury union to deal with alone.

No complaints to Race Relations Commission

The Race Relations Commission has not received any complaints about Mr Haden's use of the word "darkies" in reference to Polynesian players.

Commissioner Joris de Bres says it is highly inappropriate for someone in Mr Haden's position to use a derogatory term to describe Maori and Pacific Island New Zealanders on television. However, the office has not received any complaints.

On Monday, major sponsors of the tournament have been distancing themselves from the issue, refusing to comment.