Haden apologises, stays World Cup ambassador

13:46, May 30 2010

Rugby World Cup minister Murray McCully accepts not everyone will be happy with Andy Haden's retention as a tournament ambassador but believes the All Black great can still contribute to the success of the event despite his racial slur.

Haden apologised for using the word "darkie" in his claims that the Crusaders had a three-player Pacific Island quota in their recruitment policy for Super Rugby.

That apology was enough to satisfy Mr McCully that Haden could remain in his World Cup role for next year's tournament.

McCully met Haden in Auckland for an hour today and felt there was sincerity in the apology.

"Mr Haden made the decision without being prompted by me that he should apologise. That addresses the key point of concern from the government's perspective which was the use of the term that caused offence," Mr McCully said,.

McCully said he had discussed with Prime Minister John Key the possibility of removing Haden from his post but wanted to see if there was a way forward.

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"The important point is that he needed to put that right. What he said to me was that he had accepted with the benefit of hindsight that he has used a term that caused offense to people.

"Look, some people are going to be happy, some people are going to be unhappy with the decision we have made today. But if we were to take out everyone that made a mistake and shoot them we would sooner or later run out of people to do things in this country.

"I think we have to accept that a mistake was made, it's been addressed by Mr Haden and I'm satisfied to leave it there."

It appears Haden's sporting and business contacts are too good to ignore despite the ugliness of last week's remarks. There are six ambassadors but Aucklander Haden, who played 117 times for the All Blacks, is the only one based in New Zealand. McCully stressed they remained "rugby players, not diplomats" and they work for free.

 "Andy Haden was selected because he probably has the biggest network of sporting and business leaders in Asia and Australia. He has been doing a tremendous job for the 2011 office connecting investment and tourism programmes with people who can help us.

"He is making a great contribution there. I don't think he fully understood just how important it was that he needed to deal with the higher level of scrutiny in that role. I think he has found that has been underlined for him in the last day or so."

McCully acknowledged the "lively debate" over the issue and sensed the experience had been painful to Haden.

"It's probably not something Mr Haden had given enough thought to. This experience will have caused him some pain.

"He's a guy who has put a lot into rugby and to be the butt of criticism will not have been a very enjoyable experience for him.

"I'm confident that he can still make a very valuable contribution to the work programme we have in place and I hope that his efforts are noteworthy for the significant contribution he can make to our tourism trade and investment promotional activities and not for the choice of language that we saw last week.

"It's been an uncomfortable experience for all of us. We want to spend our time focused on more positive things than this particular incident."

Mr McCully said the government wouldn't be drawn into Haden's allegations about the Crusaders. It's only concern was his choice of phrase.

Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are all playing in the World Cup with the All Blacks meeting Tonga in the tournament opener at Eden Park.

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