Rugby club plans to be booze-free

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: Henare O’Keefe organised 2008’s hikoi against gang violence which marched from Flaxmere to Hastings.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: Henare O’Keefe organised 2008’s hikoi against gang violence which marched from Flaxmere to Hastings.

Rugby and beer's relationship is being challenged by a Hawke's Bay club that is planning to build new alcohol-free clubrooms.

Hastings councillor and Flaxmere social activist Henare O'Keefe is the driving force behind MAC Old Boys' move. As club adviser, he said he would support the new clubrooms only if they were booze-free.

"I have put a few noses out of joint, but they have bought into it now," says O'Keefe, teetotal for more than 20 years since his best friend's son was killed by a drink-driver.

O'Keefe, who won the 2011 New Zealander of the Year Unsung Hero Award, says alcohol has damaged his community.

"Solutions have to come from within, we are not talking about abstinence, we are saying this is an alternative, try it."

The club was originally formed as an old boys' team for Hastings' now-defunct Maori Agricultural College. All Blacks George Nepia and Taine Randell have donned its colours, and O'Keefe said most of the premier team did not drink anyway.

Some areas, such as Poverty Bay, have instigated sideline alcohol bans, but the only other club to take MAC's approach is Bay of Plenty's Arataki, which in 2006 reopened its clubrooms after eight years without a liquor licence.

Arataki is sponsored by a local pub, which does host players who want a post-match drink. The club hosts a post-match meal for both teams. "We did it because of the children," club president Michael Rawiri said. "We wanted to get rid of the reputation the club had, and the community at that time wasn't in the best of states, so we thought 'let's try and change something'.

"It was actually instigated by a couple of players."

The New Zealand Rugby Union hadn't heard of MAC's decision.

Community and provincial rugby manager Brent Anderson said it supported a "sensible and responsible approach" to drinking.

"But for many clubs, the social setting provided by clubrooms is a valued part of the community and an important source of revenue".

Massey University public health school's Sally Casswell said MAC's decision was "part of the current societal trend questioning the pervasiveness of alcohol and incorporation of drinking into so many aspects of people's lives".

She said Australian studies had shown players in sports clubs sponsored by liquor companies were more likely to become heavy drinkers.

Last week the rugby and drinking relationship was highlighted when Australia's immigration minister denied an appeal against deportation from New Zealander Charlie Tauariki.

Offered a place to stay by a friend on his release from prison, Tauariki promised to go teetotal.

But the minister said the pair were connected through rugby, which had a culture of drinking and playing rugby was likely to expose him to that culture.


Sunday Star Times