4 May 2017

Canterbury Rugby tackles racial abuse

6:02 am on 4 May 2017

After a turbulent year of complaints about players' conduct the Canterbury Rugby Union has launched a new campaign aimed at stopping racism on the rugby pitch.

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Photo: PhotoSport

The union said there were over 15,000 rugby players in the region, and its chief executive, Nathan Godfrey, said racism on the rugby pitch had been around for a while.

There were 12 cases of misconduct last year, including two high profile cases of racial abuse.

Mr Godfrey said this was not acceptable.

"I was really saddened to be honest", he said.

"It is a small minority of people who are involved in the game [and they are] spoiling it for everyone else."

Mr Godfrey said he wanted to grow rugby and draw players from throughout the community.

"We need to make sure that the environment we are creating is welcoming", he said.

Racism on the high school rugby pitch

One case of racism involved a 14-year-old Fijian boy in a high school rugby game last year.

The St Thomas of Canterbury College student was called a series of names which made fun of his skin colour, but the school's principal, Christine O'Neil, said this sort of racism was common.

"Our Māori and Pacifica boys would say they are subjected to racism on a daily basis, and on Saturday when they play", she said.

Ms O'Neil said that given rugby's popularity, something needed to be done.

The campaign

In response to these cases, the Canterbury Rugby Union started their 'We All Bleed Red' campaign, which aimed to put a stop to the abuse.

A disciplinary officer has been appointed to deal with complaints, and a judiciary committee formed to handle mediation.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Davoy supported the campaign and said there was often a lot of talk about racism, but little action.

She said it was important to highlight these issues now, especially considering what was happening overseas.

"We are seeing, as a result of Brexit and [President] Trump, more hate speech, more divisiveness ... we need to be able to debate issues with facts and figure and not hyperbole," she said.

New Zealand Rugby Union general manager Neil Sorensen said it supported the campaign, and its outcome could inform the union's 'Respect and Responsibility' review it was undertaking across New Zealand rugby.

The We All Bleed Red campaign will run for three years, and Mr Godfey said he hoped it would be rolled out nationwide.

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