24 Dec 2016

Steve Tew: ‘We are a lightning rod for NZ society’

From Saturday Morning, 8:14 am on 24 December 2016

NZ Rugby chief executive Steve Tew has had quite the year. He spoke to Kim Hill about culture change and the challenges facing New Zealand rugby after an incident-rich year.

It was a great year on the field for NZ Rugby (NZR) but off the field there have been troubles. 

Steve Tew

Steve Tew Photo: photosport

Rugby has copped some heavy criticism about the culture within the sport after a number a scandals involving players’ behaviour off the pitch.

All Black Aaron Smith was filmed entering a Christchurch Airport toilet cubicle with a female friend and was suspended for one game.

There was uproar at Wellington rugby rep Losi Filipo’s discharge without conviction on assault charges after his lawyer successfully argued a conviction could damage his client’s career. 

And a stripper accused players at the Waikato Chiefs’ end-of-year celebrations of abusing and harassing her.

Public outrage led to series of new measures including the first woman ever elected to the  board of NZ Rugby, a respect and responsibility review led by New Zealand Law Society president Kathryn Beck.

NZR chief executive Steve Tew spoke to Kim Hill about a challenging year in the hot seat and making changes to the sport’s culture.

On player behaviour

Tew says professional rugby players’ behaviour is held to a higher standard than other New Zealanders and if they want to keep playing they have to accept that.

“What I have been saying is you can’t expect rugby players to get it right all the time because they are just people and they do come from a broad cross section of New Zealand.

“These kids come out of families, they come out of schools, they come out community groups, in many cases they come out of churches, with a whole lot experiences that have lead them to be the people that they are now.

“We are a lightning rod for New Zealand society … the good things that happen in New Zealand will happen around rugby, and the bad things that happen in New Zealand will happen [around rugby].”

On women in rugby

Tew says the push to bring more women into the organisation is part of broader diversification of the sport, and has been a long time coming.

Rugby’s continuing popularity could be affected if it remained male dominated which is why NZR is pushing for more representation for women both on and off the field.

“I think probably there are a number of organisations that are wrestling with this issue around how do you insure that the leadership of any organisations has got a broad set of skills and experiences?

“At the end of the day, half of the population is female. If we want the game to relevant in New Zealand we need to be relevant to both genders.”

On the Chiefs’ stripper scandal

Flags are waved during a Chiefs vs Hurricanes game in 2013


NZR made the call at the time to investigate the incident as an employment matter and use in house counsel rather than instigate an independent investigation, he says.

“The lesson is now learnt, should we have known? Possible Kim I can’t really go back and recreate history.”

But Tew says he has made it clear that hiring strippers for a team function is unacceptable.

“Frankly, I would have thought that was a common sense decision that could have been made without us telling them. But they didn’t.”

On the respect and responsibility review

He says the best reaction NZR has made is putting Kathryn Beck in charge of the panel and giving it open slather.

“I have said [to] the board and everyone involved ‘there is nothing in our organisation that you can’t look at, there is no question that you can’t ask because we want to get better. Simple as that.”

On the Losi Filipo case

Losi Filipo

Losi Filipo Photo: Wellington Lions

The lesson that Wellington will learn, he says, and the NZR is sharing with the other unions is to keep a closer eye on players who are in the court system to get a better read of their particular situation.

On Aaron Smith

“Aaron’s been through a process, I think we handled that situation as well as we could at the time and if we reviewed it we would probably go through the same process.”

On 2016

NZR didn’t handle all of the problems it faced this year flawlessly and that gave the organisation “a bit of a nudge”, Tew says.

“And that’s a good thing. So we will go away this year … knowing that we can to better, and we will.”