8 Sep 2017

Rugby's drinking culture under scrutiny in review

7:35 am on 8 September 2017

Rugby's drinking culture has come under scrutiny in a review following a controversy last year when a stripper came forward with complaints of being abused and groped at a Chiefs end-of-season party.

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More than half of the reported instances of misconduct involved alcohol. Photo: 123RF

New Zealand Rugby is promising that change is on way after releasing the Respect and Responsibility Review.

Over the last four years New Zealand Rugby has investigated 36 cases of misconduct, including what it calls inappropriate sexual behaviour, violence and incidents involving drugs.

More than half involved alcohol.

Public submissions to the review highlighted heavy drinking as a serious problem.

"Respectful and responsible behaviour does not include binge drinking, brawling - especially in front of children - and intimidation by senior office holders," one submission stated.

"From my personal experiences I believe that there are clubs who are happy to remain social, therefore the culture of boozing remains the same. I have also seen many clubs recently who have moved forward and want to be professional and have changed the whole culture of the club on and off the field."

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said despite having liquor companies as major sponsors, change was possible.

"What we can do around our own environment is obviously making sure the education is sufficient.

"Getting it down to a community level, we will encourage clubs to take an approach to alcohol that reflects responsible hosting; so food, a range of non-alcoholic drinks, don't over celebrate with alcohol, and have proper closing times."

The report gives the rugby union two years to start promoting sensible drinking and make the local clubs more family friendly.

Another submission in the report detailed a response to sexual misconduct complaints.

"One night a women was sexually assaulted in the toilets by a man who followed her in there. This behaviour, when we raised it, was written off as 'boys being silly'. The management in that club are openly defensive of men and believe women act like sluts.

"This union has had previous complaints that they have failed to deal with or pretended to do their own investigations ignoring the fact they have a vested interest in finding the club's staff or players innocent."

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue was one of a group of women who wrote an open letter to New Zealand Rugby calling for drastic culture change following the Chiefs stripper controversy.

She wants faster action.

"I was really disappointed to see the actions around alcohol and drugs and behaviours only a medium goal - so they won't be looked at until 2019/2020. I just think it's more urgent.

"They may have to look at getting rid of bars in rugby clubs, it's just such an intrenched part of our culture and society not just in rugby clubs, but clearly it has to change - how that is tackled is up to the Rugby Union".

But Ms Blue said the women who wrote the open letter would still support what she called a step in the right direction.

"It was absolutely overdue. I'm pleased they have finished the review but now they need to get on with it - people will get behind it because it is positive."

Sexual Abuse Prevention Network general manager Fiona McNamara also supports the report, but said some parts needed further development.

"It's really great that gender equity is one of the goals, but that whole section is all about encouraging women to play the sport, which is super important but what's missing is a really clear plan to address the culture that makes rugby unattractive to women."

She hoped the report and changes from it would create social change in the way women were treated by some in the rugby community.

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