New Zealand’s governing rugby body has failed to properly support women’s high performance rugby, with some players reporting favouritism, ghosting, body-shaming and culturally insensitive comments, a scathing review of one of the world’s top women’s rugby teams has found.
The more than 30-page review, which came with 26 recommendations, was instigated after a senior Black Ferns player – Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate – posted on social media that she had suffered a mental health breakdown following the Black Ferns’ 2021 end-of -year tour to England and France.
“What became clear during the review was that Te Kura’s concerns were not isolated and some other players (particularly Māori and Pasifika players) had either experienced similar behavior by a number of members of management (of ‘favouritism’, ‘ghosting’, cultural insensitivities ), or had witnessed it, or had been told about it contemporaneously,” the review said.
When asked why players did not complain, they cited being worried it would affect their chance of selection, they did not know how to raise a complaint, or it had been mentioned to management but nothing was done.
Ngata-Aerengamate’s post included claims that the coach, Glenn Moore, had made a number of comments to her during her eight years in the team, including: that she had been selected but “didn’t deserve to be in the team”; that he was “embarrassed” for her; and she was “picked only to play the guitar”. She also revealed feeling low self-esteem, like she was walking on egg-shells, and that she was sworn at and made to feel like everything she did was wrong.
Moore has not directly addressed Ngata-Aerengamate’s claims.
At the time, New Zealand Rugby said it was taking the social media post seriously and would assign an independent panel to conduct the review, which was not to ascertain if the allegations were true but to provide an opportunity to make comments about the culture and environment .
More than 50 current and former players, managers and coaches were interviewed.
The reviewers highlighted a lack of support, unity, and communication gaps between players and management.
“New Zealand Rugby structures have not sufficiently supported women’s high performance rugby in New Zealand,” it said, and went on to make key recommendations about the high-performance environment and culture.
It said while New Zealand Rugby had done a “great deal of positive work” to move the Black Ferns into a professional era, it had not created a high-performance vision, and that needed to be addressed.
It said the group needed to place greater focus on the rights and welfare of its players and management, and there was room to build cultural competency.
The review also cited a lack of cultural diversity and women within the Black Ferns’ management structure, noting that the team itself is “an elite female team of which 50% are Māori, and 25% are Pasifika”.
New Zealand Rugby’s chief executive Mark Robinson said in a statement: “This report highlights that we haven’t got everything right and we apologise for not having provided all the tools for our people to succeed.”
“The Black Ferns have been great ambassadors for rugby; they have won five of seven Rugby World Cups since their inception and have added considerably to the mana and legacy of New Zealand Rugby in that time; the current group of players and management are part of this,” said Robinson.
Moore has retained his role as coach, and will lead the team into this year’s World Cup. In a statement he said he has accepted the review’s findings, but that participating in high-performance sport presented unique challenges. I am committed to ensuring those are taken on board.”
Women in Rugby Aotearoa chair Traci Houpapa told RNZ she was surprised Moore was keeping his role. “It does send a message to say they are retaining the status quo… [New Zealand Rugby] needs to think about what that sends to the players and to the rugby community,” she said.
“I think the report tells us in many ways what we already knew, that these are long-time long-term systemic issues that have been affecting and impacting women who want to play rugby in Aotearoa.”