Opinion: I don’t care that our Super Rugby Pacific franchises have moved to Queenstown.
I won’t care if, as has been mooted, they end up relocating to Australia either.
In fact, I couldn’t care less about the entire competition.
What interests me this week, is events in America’s National Football League (NFL) where a black head coach, Brian Flores, filed a class-action lawsuit against the governing body and three of its teams, alleging racial discrimination.
The NFL has what’s known as the Rooney Rule, which mandates that franchises must interview ethnic minority candidates for head coaching and senior management roles.
Flores, who was fired by the Miami Dolphins during the current NFL season, accuses teams of conducting sham interviews with him, in order to meet the Rooney Rule, but with no intention of actually hiring him.
As it stands, just one of the NFL’s 32 teams has a black head coach. That is Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now I don’t want to go too deep into the weeds on the topic of the NFL or Flores. His lawsuit is potentially seismic for that sport and its ripples could be felt for generations.
What intrigues me here is the notion of affirmative action which, if applied correctly, can provide sports organisations with a greater diversity.
I think it’s time for some in New Zealand sport.
I’d like to see more Māori and Pasifika head coaches, just as I’d like to see more females ascend to these types of roles.
It’s not happening by what you might call conventional means, so perhaps it’s time to artificially ensure our coaching net gets cast wider.
We’ve dipped our toe in the water here already. After New Zealand’s exit from the 2019 Rugby World Cup, senior All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams and TJ Perenara talked of the need for a coach, or coaches, who better-reflected the squad itself.
The All Blacks boast – and have long-boasted – teams made up of Māori, Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players, yet have been continually coached by white guys.
It is heartening that Ardie Savea had a spell as fill-in All Blacks captain in 2021, but Sam Cane and Sam Whitelock still rank above him in the hierarchy.
I think it’s a crime that men such as Pat Lam and Tabai Matson don’t have a coaching pathway in New Zealand. Matson’s Harlequins sit near the top of the English Premiership table, while Lam’s Bristol team topped the round-robin standings last year.
Dave Rennie coaches Australia, for heaven’s sake, because he’d reached a bit of a dead-end here.
Filo Tiatia can get head-coaching jobs in Wales and Japan, but is forever cast in a support role in New Zealand. Having been assistant coach of Auckland, he’ll now do the same for Moana Pasifika.
Culture is a big word among sports teams, particularly in rugby. In basic terms it’s about feeling like you belong and are valued and important, that you and your background and beliefs matter.
Respect is paid to those things, but only to a point. At the end of the day, players invariably report to coaches and management with whom they sometimes struggle to relate.
We are forever having to convene panels and conduct reports to examine the treatment of female athletes. Overwhelmingly, the common denominator is that these women have been made to feel uncomfortable – or worse – by male authority figures.
The argument from sports organisations is that there just aren’t the candidates. Sure, we’d love greater diversity, but we can’t go promoting people for the sake of it or beyond their competency.
Well, maybe you do. Maybe actual legislation or quotas are going too far, but these organisations simply have to go to greater lengths to identify and nurture and appoint people to appropriate positions.
We can’t forever put square pegs in round holes and then act surprised when they don’t fit. Save yourself the hassle and expense of a cultural review after the fact and just get the right people involved in the first place.
Imagine being Flores and taking on the might of the NFL. Imagine the prospect he faces of never working in the industry again, as happened to elite quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he declined to stand for the pre-game national anthem.
It’s hard to see a female or Pasifika coach ever alleging racial discrimination here, partly because outfits such as New Zealand Rugby are so powerful. But if it can happen in the NFL, then who knows?
Trailblazers such as Bryan Williams, Michael Jones, Rita Fatialofa and Murphy Su’a inspired a generation of aspiring athletes to believe they could compete for New Zealand too. Tana Umaga and Pat Lam have proved you can ascend to prominent coaching roles, if only briefly.
But for every Haidee Tiffen who becomes White Ferns head coach, there are 10 different blokes waiting to take that job should she fail.
We can do better and, frankly, we have to.
We’ve always prided ourselves on being a nation where everyone gets a fair go, so why should the coaching and administration of elite sport be any different?