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Prominent New Zealand women push for rugby culture change following Chiefs investigation

New Zealanders are questioning the culture of the country’s favourite sport and those in charge of it.

Rugby scrum

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission is calling for a change to New Zealand’s rugby culture, in the wake of the Chiefs' end-of-year function incident.

Publishing an open letter to New Zealand Rugby, the Commission urged the body to look at its internal culture.

The letter comes after this week’s investigation into allegations that Chiefs' team members touched a stripper, Scarlette, roughly at their end of season party in August.

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The team was cleared of sexual abuse claims by an internal investigation conducted by NZ Rugby, but high profile Kiwi women have now slammed the fact that no action has been taken against players.

Equal Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue said she was horrified to hear how the woman at the centre of the investigations felt about the whole episode.

"She felt so unsafe, she felt she had to go public - and that wouldn't have been done lightly," Ms Blue told One News. "She was in a lawful profession and she had every right to feel safe at work, and she did not, and that was wrong."

The letter to New Zealand Rugby has been signed by numerous prominent Kiwi women, including Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue, Sexual Violence Survivors Advocate Louise Nicholas and Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy
Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy

In response, New Zealand Rugby CEO Steve Tew has admitted that they “hadn’t got it right” reported Stuff.

“Despite all we are doing in this area, recent events show we have not got it right so we will talk with the commissioner on what more we could do.

“Our induction programmes for professional players...deliver modules relating to risk awareness and their heightened responsibility as public figures, social media, healthy relationships and mental well-being. We are continuing to expand on this work, and are developing a respect and responsibility education programme focused further on health relationships and consent issues.

"Today, we began advertising for a Respect and Responsibility Manager to spearhead the project underlining our commitment to this important work. In addition, New Zealand Rugby is also leading work with six other sports codes on inclusion and diversity."

But Louise Nicholas said Rugby bosses were simply "protecting their own," and criticised the fact that the woman had never even received an apology over the incident.

The open letter, which can be signed here, calls for New Zealand Rugby to take on their advice and help over recent events, and encourage respect for women in the rugby and wider community.

You can read it below.

Dear New Zealand Rugby management and board members,
Right now, thousands of New Zealanders are questioning the culture of our country’s favourite sport and those in charge of it.
We are writing to you publicly in the hope that you will listen to our calls for you to act with courage.
The internal investigation into an incident involving a woman called Scarlette and members of the Chiefs rugby team has highlighted to all New Zealanders that NZ Rugby’s judiciary process is not appropriate for dealing with issues of integrity, mana, respect and basic personal rights.
We are offering our expertise, experience and support. Louise Nicholas has been working alongside NZ Police to successfully enhance their internal culture for some time now. We encourage you to do the same. Dr Jackie Blue offered to assist a month ago and this offer still stands.
Rugby is like a religion in New Zealand, with players worshipped by young kiwis throughout the country. NZ Rugby could not operate without thousands of women volunteers and players in clubs and towns across the country: we must address the culture that exists from the top down and set the right example, particularly for our young New Zealanders.
Now is the time for you and those involved in the incident with Scarlette to be courageous and to take personal leadership on an issue that we can all work on addressing together.
As much as New Zealanders love rugby – we need New Zealanders to respect women.
We look forward to hearing from you.