The New Zealand Herald was right to call “offensive” Andy Haden’s suggestion that the Crusaders rugby team has done better by having fewer Polynesians in the team. After claiming the Crusaders had a quota of three Polynesian players Haden said “and it’s worked”.
This prejudicial attitude is not new, particularly in Haden’s Auckland where some rugby fans have blamed the high number of Pasifika players for the poor performance of the Blues. Richard Boock described this feeling in a Sunday Star-Times column back in 2008. He described it as “a desperate backlash from an element who are clearly losing touch with the modern world. Presumably they feel the same way about Pacific Islanders fulfilling other roles in the community as well. I’m pretty sure there’s a name for that.”
I have looked at the recruitment pattern of the Crusaders and the statistics don’t support Haden’s claim about Pacific Island players. There have been plenty in the side. You would expect a fairly high European composition given that Canterbury is much whiter than the northern provinces. To their credit, the Crusaders have relied more on local players than most other Super 14 franchises, which has enhanced the strong community backing for the team – one of the secrets of their success. Canterbury-bred players, whatever their ethnicity, might also be a bit tougher than their Auckland counterparts. I speak as someone who regularly played schoolboy rugby on Saturday mornings in Hagley Park. It was a bit rugged being tackled on fields that still had ice on them.
It was wrong in the first place to appoint Andy Haden as an ‘ambassador’ for the rugby World Cup. Green Party Sport and Recreation Spokesperson Kevin Hague pointed out that Haden organized the 1986 Cavaliers rugby tour to apartheid South Africa and called the NZRU’s apology to Maori players a “waste of time”. Now after claiming having fewer “darkies” helps a team, Haden has to be sacked.