Racism rife in NZ sport says banned footballer

AMY MAAS
Last updated 05:00 18/11/2012
Tama Fasavalu
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
Tama Fasavalu

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A white player spat in his face and called his mother a whore. A referee stood by and watched.

One-time Samoan international striker Tama Fasavalu, playing for Manukau City, lashed out at the Waikato player. It was the first time he said he used his fists on the pitch but he could not take the abuse any more.

Racism, Fasavalu says, is entrenched in New Zealand sport.

On Friday the 36-year-old was sentenced to nine months' home detention for again resorting to violence on the field - this time he punched referee Len Gattsche, breaking his jaw in three places.

Alongside the court sentence, Fasavalu has been banned for life. Again, he claims, it was racism that provoked him.

He said he was unfairly penalised during the match, an Anzac Day clash against Tauranga City.

"I do regret my actions that day, but it would never have prevailed if I was treated fair like every other player," he said.

For his part Gattsche has been remarkably philosophical about the incident, accepting the punch was a momentary flare up: "It was only one hit, spur of the moment."

But he rejects Fasavalu's attempts to blame racism. There "certainly was no racism" during the game, he said. Whether Fasavalu has some justification in his claims of racism or if it is a convenient excuse for a rising tide of on-field thuggery is unclear.

Fasavalu's attack on Gattsche is just one in a string of violent episodes in the past year which have tarnished local sport.

The lawyer who represented Fasavalu in court, helping put forward the claims of racism, was Iuni Sapolu - the mother of Samoan rugby international Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, who hit headlines during the Rugby World Cup with his own claims of racism through a tirade of eyebrow-raising messages on Twitter.

Fuimaono-Sapolu returned to his theme last week, describing All Blacks Adam Thomson's one-week ban for tramping on Scotsman Alasdair Strokosh's head as "comical". Fuimaono-Sapolu was banned after tweeting questionable remarks about Saracens player Owen Farrell. Last week, in the wake of Thomson's ban, he tweeted: "I got 3 weeks for sarcastic tweets. So had I just rucked Farrells head I would have got only a week? Its just so comical these days."

He said racism was "massive" in rugby. "I think it's getting worse, it's getting more cunning. Racism reminds you who is in power."

He added that "a group of white old men" make the rules and do not include representatives countries like Samoa or Fiji in decision making.

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The serial tweeter's mother said racism would put young Polynesians off playing team sports.

"It certainly will have a huge impact. If we look at the All Blacks, they wouldn't have won the Rugby World Cup without the contribution of [Jerome] Kaino, [Keven] Mealamu, these guys who are Polynesian."

Peter Miskimmin, CEO of Sport New Zealand, said there was no place for racism in sport but admitted it does occur. "Incidents rise in sport from time to time about a lot of issues, so I wouldn't relate it just to racism. There is fighting going on, abuse of referees, abuse of young players. That's the not terribly good side of sport we see."

Fuimaono-Sapolu hoped an educated youth would "quell" racism. "Hopefully they run into this racism and confront it and deal with it," he said.

UGLY SIDE OF GAMES

May 12 – Football coach Jan Chmielewski banned for a season after threatening to kill a referee during a game between 10 and 11-year-olds.

May 19 – Falefiaoalii Faalolo, 50, charged with assault after grabbing a referee by the throat during a children's rugby game in Papatoetoe.

June 9 – Lower Hutt City footballer Donald Mani banned for 17 weeks for spitting in a referee's face. June 27 – Rugby coach Waisake Masirewa banned for a year for spitting at a referee.

June 30 – Referee Enele Lakopo and spectator Siaki Sua sentenced to 40 hours' community service for fighting at an under-11 rugby match at Porirua Park.

July 7 – Pioneer captain Tommy Harmon banned until 2014 after threatening a referee.

July 14 – Shiro Cribb is banned for 10 weeks after trying to punch a referee.

August 25 – A 17-year-old referee and the assistant referee at a 2B grade rugby match between Auckland Grammar and De La Salle College assaulted during a mass brawl.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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