Rugby legend and women's trailblazer Farah Palmer Manawatu Standard's person of the year

Farah Palmer shows off the Farah Palmer Cup after New Zealand Rugby opted to rename the women's provincial championship ...
Phil Walter

Farah Palmer shows off the Farah Palmer Cup after New Zealand Rugby opted to rename the women's provincial championship after her in May.

Women's rugby legend Farah Palmer has one more accolade to add to her outstanding year.

That is the Manawatu Standard Person of the Year award, the first women to do so, and it is well deserved for the trailblazer.

Major moments book-ended the year for the senior lecturer at Massey University's school of management with her marriage to long-time partner Wesley Clarke in January and her appointment to the New Zealand Rugby Board in December.

Farah Palmer, here presenting an award at the New Zealand Rugby Awards this year, is the Manawatu Standard Person of the ...
Michael Bradley

Farah Palmer, here presenting an award at the New Zealand Rugby Awards this year, is the Manawatu Standard Person of the Year.

It was the latter that captured national headlines with Palmer's appointment ending a 124-year run without a woman on the board when she replaced out-going Maori representative Wayne Peters.

Palmer said she believed the time was right to step up for the challenge of becoming the first woman on the board.

"Up until 2016, I did not think that I was ready for it, or that it was the right time for it in terms of my life and what I was doing," she said.

Farah Palmer performs a haka before a 2003 Black Ferns test.
Andrew Cornaga/Photosport

Farah Palmer performs a haka before a 2003 Black Ferns test.

"I talked to lots of different people about it. One of the things that I was talking to people about is that I would be seen as a token gesture. I think there is an element of that, but someone has to be the one to break that stronghold. I feel that I am there because I have the skills and expertise that are needed.

"I do a lot in terms of women in leadership and diversity in governance. Those are my areas that I look into and teach at Massey and it is something that I am passionate about."

With a CV that rivals even the most senior members of the New Zealand Rugby board, Palmer's appointment was anything but tokenism.

Farah Palmer throws the ball into a lineout during the 2006 Women's World Cup.
Paul Seiser/Seiser Photography

Farah Palmer throws the ball into a lineout during the 2006 Women's World Cup.

She has a PhD, was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to women's rugby and sport in 2007, was the New Zealand Women's Player of the Year in 1998, was inducted to World Rugby's Hall of Fame and became the newest member of Sport Manawatu's Legends of Sport in 2015.

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That all came after an impressive rugby career where she played 35 tests for the Black Ferns between 1995-2006, including captaining them to World Cup success in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

She worked with the International Rugby Board women's meetings and has been on the New Zealand Maori Rugby Board for a decade as an independent member.

Black Ferns captain Farah Palmer, centre right, celebrating winning the 2002 Rugby World Cup.
GUSTAU NACARINO

Black Ferns captain Farah Palmer, centre right, celebrating winning the 2002 Rugby World Cup.

That resume is one of the reasons New Zealand Rugby opted to rename the women's provincial competition the Farah Palmer Cup in May, following in the tradition of the men's game where trophies are named after legends of the game such as the Meads and Lochore Cups.

She admitted she was reluctant to accept the honour.

"When I was initially asked if they named the competition after me, I said 'No way, that is embarrassing'."

But eventually she was convinced to give them the green light.

"It is not about me. It is about giving women's rugby that respect and accolades that the men's competitions get as well."

Away from rugby, Palmer spent the year working with Jason Mika with a focus on continuing to grow Massey's Te Au Rangahau Maori Business Centre.

Looking ahead to 2017, Palmer hoped to continue to promote diversity.

"I want to be a part of trying to encourage more diversity in the leadership and governance in all aspects of rugby. And to try to promote women's and Maori rugby as ways for New Zealand rugby to progress," she said.

"Hopefully I am not the only woman to put their name forward to the board and there are others. I know there are lots of other women who could do this job quite capably."

​Rugby may only be a sport but with its influence on New Zealand society, the importance of Palmer's work to change gender and cultural perceptions cannot be understated.

Manawatu Standard editor Jonathon Howe called Palmer an immensely impressive and inspirational woman.

Palmer has worked tirelessly throughout and after her rugby career to promote the womens and Maori rugby, and has pushed for more diversity in the leadership of all levels of our national game, he said.

"It may have taken 124 years, but we must give New Zealand Rugby some credit for finally recognising the error of its ways and appointing a woman to its board.

"But make no mistake - this was not a decision done to tick a demographic box. Putting her legendary status to one side, Palmer has held executive positions on international and Maori rugby boards, making her uniquely qualified to thrive in such a role.

"A winner of multiple rugby world cups, a PhD and an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, she was an easy choice for 2016's Manawatu Standard Person of the Year."

 - Stuff

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