Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kiwi piracy? More Pommie whingeing? Ignorance ~ or racism?

December 16, 2005

In a recent commentary, Eddie Butler, the former Welsh international and now-rugby columnist for the English newspaper The Observer, continues his repeated besmirchment of the New Zealand All Blacks, and worst, that nation’s open-door immigration policy.

Butler writes:

“And to our Kiwi readers who claim that other countries poach as vigorously as the All Blacks, how can it be that Sitiveni Sivivatu and Sione Lauaki can one year play for the combined Pacific Islands against New Zealand, and the next be playing for the ABs? That's not missionary work but piracy.”

As a chief rugby correspondent for a major daily newspaper, Eddie Butler surely knows the eligibility rules and requirements of the International Rugby Board (IRB) and knows the answer to that question. Nevertheless, here’s a short answer first:

Sitiveni Sivivatu was born in Fiji, but immigrated to New Zealand in his teens. Sivivatu went to Wesley College before playing rugby at club and provincial level prior to receiving a professional contract.

Sione Lauaki was born in Tonga, but immigrated to New Zealand when he was in primary school. Lauaki attended Birdwood Primary School in Massey in Auckland; Wesley Intermediate; and Kelston Boys High School before playing rugby at club and provincial level prior to receiving a professional contract.

Sivivatu and Lauaki’s eligibility to play for the Pacific Islands team and the New Zealand All Blacks is not so very different from a player like Rico Gear representing the NZ Maori and the All Blacks, or Lawrence Dallaglio representing England and the British Lions and the Barbarians.

The IRB policy is that players are only eligible to play for one nation.

IRB Regulation 8.2: "A Player who has played for the senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team or the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team of a Union is not eligible to play for the senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team or the next senior fifteen-a-side National Representative Team of another Union."

That's it, there are no exceptions. One player simply cannot play for one nation and then turn out for another. Eddie Butler knows that rule. Even part-time rugby columnists in North America know that rule.

Prior to representing New Zealand, neither Sivivatu nor Lauaki ever represented any other nation. As is entirely their right, Sivivatu and Lauaki have elected to play for their adopted homeland of New Zealand. This is not piracy and it is not unreasonable. These players, after all, are naturalized New Zealanders.

That’s the simple answer.

In fairness however, it is also true that this is not the first instance that Mr. Butler has made disparaging tirades about New Zealand’s national rugby team and smeared New Zealand’s immigration policy.

Point in case:

1. Eddie Butler and fellow Brit rugby journos have repeatedly called former All Black Jonah Lomu a Tongan. It is true that Lomu has Tongan heritage, and has never shied away from that heritage. But Lomu was born in Auckland, New Zealand.

2. Eddie Butler and fellow Brit rugby journos have repeatedly called All Black captain Tana Umaga a Samoan. It is true that Umaga has Samoan heritage, and has never hid from this fact. Again, Umaga was born in Lower Hutt, New Zealand.

3. Eddie Butler and fellow Brit rugby journos are forever calling All Black winger Joe Rokocoko a Fijian. It is true that Rokocoko was born in Fiji, but Rokocoko immigrated to New Zealand with his parents when he was five years old. Rokocoko was raised in New Zealand; he was educated in New Zealand; he learned the game of rugby in New Zealand and played every rugby game of his life until he was given a professional contract in New Zealand. Joe Rokocoko is a naturalized New Zealander.

In every instance – Lomu, Umaga, Rokocoko – these players have every right and are every bit as proud to call themselves Kiwis as every other New Zealander.

The same is equally true of Sivivatu and Lauaki.

British newspaper editors continue to provide the likes of Eddie Butler and his cohorts extensive leeway to promote distortions that smear the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) as “pillaging,” “plundering,” “raping,” “stealing,” poaching,” and now engaged in “piracy” to select native-born New Zealanders and naturalized New Zealanders to represent their homeland.

This is a contemptible distortion of the truth. It is the stated aim and policy of The Observer that they, quote, “strive to maintain the highest editorial standards at all times.”

It is not for me to cast aspersions onto British rugby correspondents motivation for continuing to propagate blatant distortions about the NZRU. But Eddie Butler's work is disturbing, clearly unprofessional, and beneath the standards and practices that The Observer has committed itself.

Some facts:

New Zealand has by far the largest population of Pacific Island immigrants in the world. Discounting the number of native-born indigenous Maori, the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs in New Zealand states that, “One in sixteen or 231,801 people in New Zealand were of Pacific ethnicity at the time of the 2001 Census, according to latest figures from Statistics New Zealand.”

In some cities, the population of Pacific Island immigrants is extraordinarily high:

“Manukau City had the largest count of people of Pacific ethnicity (1 in 4 people in that city were of Pacific ethnicity). This was followed by Auckland (where 1 in 7 people were of Pacific ethnicity), Waitakere City (1 in 7) and Porirua City (1 in 4).”

In the interest of fairness and accuracy, it behooves the Observer and Eddie Butler to clarify and acknowledge the reality of these statistics and New Zealand society.

If the New Zealand All Blacks are the beneficiary of having naturalized immigrants like Mr. Sivivatu and Mr. Lauaki representing their adopted homeland, then it is equally true that 231,799 other Pacific Islanders are themselves the beneficiary of New Zealand’s open-door immigration policy.

These immigrants have every right and entitlement to call themselves New Zealanders as are Jamaican immigrants in London that carry British passports, or Turkish immigrants in Munich that call their children German. This is the 21st century.

And it is also equally true that for decades New Zealand has donated significantly more rugby players to represent Tonga, Samoa and other international Unions than has ever been the other way around. That is indisputable fact.

A final point:

There is a trend in British print journalism that says when a white Canadian soccer player like Owen Hargreaves – who never lived, worked or played a single game of football in his entire life in the United Kingdom – is signed by manager Sven Goran Eriksson to represent England, that somehow Hargreaves is simply exercising his free will. But when dark-skinned Pacific Islanders immigrate to New Zealand with their families as young schoolboys – or heaven forbid, are actually born in New Zealand hospitals – that somehow these immigrants-or-natives are stolen by the NZRU against their will. This is not only willful deception; it is a reprehensible double-standard. I'll leave it to others to decide for themselves the underlying ideology behind this double-standard.

The British public and rugby fans deserve the truth. New Zealand has the world’s largest population of Pacific Islanders. It is high time that Eddie Butler and The Observer recognized this. The NZRU and New Zealanders deserve an apology and cessation of this editorial abuse. The Observer would do well to insist that Eddie Butler live up to the stated ideals of his employer, and strive to maintain higher editorial standards, to say nothing of honesty and facts.

End o' rant.


At 12:18 PM , Anonymous Jason Cormier said...

An excellent commentary. I have always found this habit of the British press pretty disgusting.

You wrote, "This is not only willful deception; it is a reprehensible double-standard." I would go one step further and call in xenophobia and racism.


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