7 Sep 2016

'This leaves a black mark on rugby'

8:14 pm on 7 September 2016

New Zealand Rugby has issued every member of the Chiefs with a formal caution after investigating allegations players abused a woman performing as a stripper.

The woman, who asked to be known as Scarlette, said some players groped, threw gravel and chanted lewdly at her during the rugby team's end-of-season function on 1 August at the Ōkoroire Hot Pools, near Matamata.

New Zealand Rugby investigated the incident, as part of a joint inquiry, and announced its findings today at a news conference in Wellington.

It said the investigation, carried out by its general counsel, found the allegations were unsubstantiated.

Its chief executive, Steve Tew, said it did not have grounds to pursue misconduct action against individuals but all players had been given a formal caution.

"While the investigation concludes that the balance of the evidence, based largely on independent witnesses, strongly supports a finding that the alleged sexual assault did not take place as reported in the media, we are far from satisfied that players should not bear some culpability for the harm done to the game, to the Chiefs brand, and to their families."

The inquiry indicated the performance was legal and consensual but, Mr Tew said, it was a form of entertainment that was entirely inappropriate for a professional rugby team.

"This leaves a black mark on rugby, and on the Chiefs in particular," he said.

"We are deeply embarrassed to be dealing with this matter."

Mr Tew said 15 witnesses were interviewed during the investigation into the end-of season function, nine of whom were "independent".

A number of senior players acting as "sober minders" were also interviewed, and none corroborated the allegations.

So-called Mad Monday celebrations would not be banned but there would be strong warnings given to rugby teams about appropriate behaviour, he said.

Watch the full news conference:

Chiefs chief executive Andrew Flexman said the celebrations did not have enough management oversight, and the incident had put the organisation into a vulnerable position.

"And we are sorry to the people we have let down as a consequence."

The players had accepted responsibility and had apologised to supporters, sponsors and work colleagues, he said.

The club would work with New Zealand Rugby to implement guidelines to ensure the incidents would not be repeated, Mr Flexman.

He said the club had been dropped by two sponsors but would not name the companies.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said his players would apologise to the woman for putting her in a vulnerable position but, ultimately, they were good men who had made poor decisions.

An incident involving a second stripper at the previous year's end-of-season party was also investigated, and those allegations were also found to be unsubstantiated.

The joint inquiry involved New Zealand Rugby, the Chiefs' organisation and the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association.

My Food Bag ends sponsorship of team

A food delivery company, My Food Bag, today announced it was terminating its sponsorship deal with the Chiefs.

It would donate any remaining sponsorship fees to Women's Refuge.

The company's founder and co-chief executive, Cecilia Robinson, said the team's conduct didn't reflect the company's values.

My Food Bag said it would continue to sponsor individual athletes.

Police said last month they would not be taking any action after meeting with Scarlette, and considering her wishes and the information available to them.

At the time, Mr Flexman said the club was taking the allegations "extremely seriously" and he expressed his disappointment that a stripper had been hired.

Bu he questioned allegations the players behaved inappropriately toward the woman, saying her "standing in the community and culpability is not beyond reproach".

However, he said later he regretted those comments.

Chiefs player Michael Allardice also apologised for making homophobic comments at the hot pools on the same night.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs