OPINION: The decision by the Rugby World Cup Minister, Murray McCully, to allow former All Black Andy Haden to continue as an ambassador for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, is a serious blunder.
Announcing yesterday that Haden would be keeping his role, McCully wildly missed the point about Haden's misconduct and tried to suggest that because of some tepid expressions of regret by Haden about the language he used the matter should now be considered closed.
That is very far from the case. Haden has caused deep offence with a false and damaging accusation. He has not atoned for it, or even come close to apologising. Unless and until he does, he is not fit to remain as an ambassador for the Rugby World Cup programme.
McCully chose to focus on the neanderthal language Haden used to make his slur. Haden's use of what McCully rather prissily characterised as "a particular term" was "unhelpful", McCully said, but Haden had apologised for using that language and so far as McCully was concerned that was "the end of the matter".
In fact even on this point Haden, in his quoted remarks, has been decidedly half-hearted, retreating behind the equivocation that he apologised "if anyone was offended" by the term he used – "darkies" – and blaming "politically correct types" for the uproar that has ensued. Haden's supporters have backed him in this line, suggesting besides that the term is a commonly used one.
But it is not political correctness that restrains the use of racist language. It is simply that such language has long since become unacceptable everywhere and its use is merely a sign of boorishness and boneheadedness. There is no question of "if anyone was offended". The language was offensive and Haden should know that. Haden is a leading figure in rugby – an idol probably to some young men – and should have lived up to the responsibilities that imposes. His Rugby World Cup ambassadorship means, moreover, that he speaks for the country, which a person of mature views would know means using language appropriate to the position.
The language Haden used was chosen, possibly deliberately, to make the accusation against the Crusaders of imposing a limit on the number of Maori and Polynesian players it has in its squad at any one time sting all the more sharply. Haden has not retreated from that taunt at all.
The claim is plainly untrue, as a dispassionate look at the Crusaders lineup, which has and has had many Maori and Polynesian players, shows. Haden's claims also run up against the appreciation here of the great gifts non-Pakeha bring to the Crusaders' game. Those men have been vital in giving the team its outstanding record for winning performances in Super 12 and Super 14.
The appreciation of the non-Pakeha input stands up to a brutal test – the attitude of the AMI Stadium crowds. They are notorious for showing fundamental feelings about the game and its players, but racist taunts from onlookers are rare.
Haden has long been seen in Canterbury as the bad-boy personification of Auckland and its rugby. It is certainly felt here that his outlandish assertions about the Crusaders' selection policy were motivated by antagonism towards this province.
Haden's appointment as a Rugby World Cup ambassador was a questionable one from the outset. His reputation has long been under scrutiny. His dubious display in the lineout against Wales raised persistent questions about his behaviour on the field; his involvement in the 1986 Cavaliers' rebel tour of South Africa embarrassed the New Zealand Rugby Union and further degraded the nation's record as a participant in racist sport; his inexplicable position as a leading and dogmatic commentator on rugby infuriates those who appreciate the subtlety of the game.
That record should have warned the Government against Haden's appointment as one of six Rugby World Cup ambassadors. There were many much more suitable people for the post. Only the Government can repair the damage that Haden's behaviour has caused, and that repair can only come about by his sacking from his official post. His continuation as an ambassador damages New Zealand's reputation.
- © Fairfax NZ News