I’m a fan of rugby. I’m a fan of the Chiefs. But not today.
Today they acted like a group of children who know they are going to be told off. Hiding, shuffling their feet, figuring out what the “right” answers are so they won’t get in trouble, and, most importantly, not narking on their mates.
Meanwhile, NZR (there’s no U anymore) gave a press conference (and released a statement) that feels so much like a research report you really didn’t want to do, but you made damn sure the bibliography was perfect.
In summary New Zealand Rugby has found that:
- No complaint was laid with police and police are not pursuing either incident
- The discrepancies between the reported accounts of both women, and those of the players and independent witnesses could not be reconciled in a number of key respects
- The allegations of sexual assault, were strongly denied by players, and were not substantiated by the witnesses’ who did not see players touch, throw anything or pour alcohol on any women at either celebration
- Nine independent witnesses to the performances were interviewed and gave statements that were considered genuine and credible
- Players organised the end-of-season celebrations including the entertainment
- Chiefs management were not involved in the celebrations or their planning and did not ask for details, but did advise players to be responsible
- At both functions, some players were intoxicated to varying degrees, and some – designated as minders for those drinking – were sober
In summary of the summary: no one told us anything, the players backed each other up, so it didn’t happen.
…we are far from satisfied that players should not bear some culpability for the harm done to the game, to the Chiefs brand, and to their families
The whole incident has been incredibly disturbing and it is clear that poor decision making on a number of fronts has led to these players and Chiefs’ management putting themselves in a position of vulnerability.
So they did do something wrong. They hired a stripper. And for that they all get a “formal caution”. It’s unclear what that means exactly, or what would warrant another strike against that caution, or what the penalty would be?
It’s also unclear why simply hiring a stripper (a legal profession) is a problem. I assume they also bought alcohol, which seems like much more of a problem than a dancer. Much better people than me have written about the issue with the team hiring the stripper, I would like to instead focus on NZR.
Despite appearances NZR are not stupid. They know the reputation of the game was severely dented if not damaged. A censure of the entire team seems like an appropriate punishment to NZR. Something that sounds quite harsh, but really isn’t.
What they should’ve done is docked the Chiefs a point in next year’s Super Rugby. With the clear message that anything, even slightly out of line, will be met with the exact same punishment.
This meets all of the criteria of the current punishment – it punishes the whole team without singling out any players – with the bonus of actually doing something. One point may not sound like much until you realise that before the season even starts, you’re in last place.
There’s one other thing NZR needs to do: Lay down the law to every other team.
NZR/Chiefs in consultation with the NZRPA should look into the circumstances in which end-of-season celebrations take place (not only in the Chiefs region but in all professional environments) and develop a range of protocols to ensure that such celebrations are conducted appropriately and risk to reputations of players, employers and the game are minimised
Beyond the fact that this doesn’t mention risk to anyone other than players, employers and “the game”, it also feels weak. “We’ll develop a range of protocols” is not as bold as “we’ve got some protocols and here they are and if you don’t follow them then you lose points next season”.
For people in charge of a sport that gave us the term “sin bin”, they seem reluctant to set in place rules for conduct.
Do it, NZR. Come down hard. Put in place rules about domestic violence, assault, and sexual harassment. Get back all the fans you’ve lost and strengthen your ties to the ones you didn’t.
Because in New Zealand two things are at the top of the stats: rugby and domestic violence. This is NZR’s chance to start defeating one with the other.
(I have written to NZR to get clarification on the formal citation but so far the only response I had was “who do you write for?”, fair cop for taking such a long break I guess).
[Update: NZR got back to me and said the formal citation "goes on their record – so is counted if anything similar happens again". I have asked what 'similar' means]