6 Mar 2024

Hurricanes haka: A brief history of protests in sport

11:18 am on 6 March 2024
From top left: Bryan Williams and Bob Burgess, Josh Kronfeld, Tommie Smith and Darren Waller

From top left: Bryan Williams and Bob Burgess, Josh Kronfeld, Tommie Smith and Darren Waller. Photo: Photosport / AFP

From wearing a wristband to refusing to play the Springboks, Kiwis are among athletes worldwide to make a stand for what they believe in - often at some cost.

Protesting has raised eyebrows and hackles this week after Hurricanes Poua players altered their haka to lash out at the government.

Hurricanes chief executive Avan Lee says Poua have been told they will not be allowed to repeat the controversial haka, which was performed on Saturday.

Before their Super Rugby Aupiki season opener against the Chiefs Manawa, the Wellington-based team used an altered haka which included words translating to "puppets of this redneck government".

Lee told Morning Report that while he accepts the haka can be political, the words used had gone too far.

So let's look back at others who have dared incur the displeasure of their bosses as they take a stand for what they believe in.

Rugby may produce its share of taciturn cliche-inspired players, but it has had a few renegades.

First five-eighth Bob Burgess has been called its "original activist" because despite his multiple talents, he turned his back on a stellar All Black career in the 1970s over the apartheid system that prevailed in South Africa.

By 1981, he was on the frontline of the anti-tour protest movement that caused such huge bitterness all over the country over an eight-week period.

Bryan Williams and Bob Burgess, either 1971 or 1972. New Zealand All Blacks. Photo: Photosport.co.nz

Bob Burgess, right, with Bryan Williams. Photo: Photosport.co.nz

Although many said at the time sport and politics shouldn't be mixed, Burgess wouldn't have a bar of it.

"It's a matter of morality," he told the Otago Daily Times. "In that regard, you can't separate one aspect of your life from the others."

There were multiple violent clashes between police and protesters, while some of the most memorable protests included:

  • A pilot, Marx Jones, flew over Eden Park during the final test match of the tour, and dropped a flour bomb on All Black prop Gary Knight. Jones served a six-month jail term for his actions.
  • Protesters bought several hundred tickets for the Springboks v Waikato match at Rugby Park in Hamilton, then invaded the pitch. With reports that a stolen plane was also heading for the ground police had no option but to call the match off - much to the anger of the other spectators.

The scene during one of the protests. Photo:

In more recent times All Black halfback TJ Perenara came off the bench wearing a wristband with 'Ihumātao' on it during a test against the Wallabies at Eden Park on 17 August 2019.

It was a gesture of support for those occupying land in Māngere, South Auckland, where a controversial housing development was planned.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen claimed not to have noticed and didn't mind. However, many on social media did pick it up, including Greens co-leader Marama Davidson.

Another prominent All Black to make a stand was flanker Josh Kronfeld who was upset in 1996 that the French government had resumed testing nuclear bombs in the South Pacific.

So in a match between Otago and Waikato he made his feelings clear with 'Stop testing' written on one side of his head gear and a large peace sign on the other.

New Zealand Rugby told him he had breached his contract, which earned the national body a ticking off from the prime minister of the time Jim Bolger who said they were being "quite silly".

Josh Kronfeld. Otago v Auckland, 7 October 2000. NPC, Rugby Union. Photo: photosport.co.nz

Josh Kronfeld in more traditional headgear. Photo: photosport.co.nz

Sonny Bill Williams has never been one to shy away from controversy and in 2017 lodged a conscientious objection about wearing a BNZ logo on his Blues jersey.

Williams, a Muslim, covered up the logo because his faith forbids financial institutions charging interest and fees on loans.

New Zealand Rugby agreed to him making it a "conscientious objection".

America's Cup winner Sir Russell Coutts who was spotted outside Parliament during the 2022 weeks-long occupation said in a social media post: "It's the first time I've ever felt compelled to join a protest".

Racism fuels protests worldwide

US athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists in the Black Power salute to express their opposition to racism in the USA during the US national anthem, after receiving their medals 16 October 1968 for first and third place in the men's 200m event at the Mexico Olympic Games. At left is Peter Norman of Australia who took second place. (Photo by EPU / AFP)

Tommie Smith and John Carlos performing the salute that sent shockwaves through the Mexico Olympics. Photo: AFP

As far back as the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City two Black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, each raised a black-clad fist in protest as the US national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner played during the 200 metres medal ceremony.

Smith also wore a black scarf as a symbol of black pride, Carlos wore a bead necklace as a reminder of lynchings of many Black Americans and their socks with no shoes represented poverty in their community.

They were criticised by the International Olympic Committee, suspended from the US team and then sent home.

For Smith in particular the consequences were huge - he would never compete again and both men faced abuse back home.

LeBron James and other basketball players wore T-shirts with the words "I can't breathe" written on them in 2014, echoing the last words of 43-year-old Black man Eric Garner, who died after being restrained by police officers in New York.

James has often used his fame to advocate for Black people and protest about the treatment they receive from police.

Taking the knee

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 24: Darren Waller #83 of the Las Vegas Raiders takes a knee before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   Gaelen Morse/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Gaelen Morse / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders takes a knee before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo: AFP

After the murder of another unarmed Black man George Floyd by police officers in the US in 2020 taking the knee became a prominent pre-match gesture in several sports.

It had first been performed by American footballer Colin Kaepernick during the national anthem before a match in 2016.

He said he could not stand to show pride in the flag of a country that oppressed black people, the BBC reported.

England's men's and women's football teams adopted taking the knee, including during the European Championships that took place in the summers of 2021 and 2022 and it was also seen at the World Cup in Qatar.

Women make a stand

Inequality has forced women to take many forms of protest over the years in order to even get the right to compete.

One of the most extraordinary moments of this direct action came in 1967 at the Boston Marathon, one of the world's most prestigious marathons.

Fed up with being excluded, 20-year-old journalism student Kathrine Switzer registered in a neutral name and began to run the race, the Guardian reported.

Famously, when it was discovered she was a woman, men tried to pull off her race number and get her out of the race. It took another five years for women to be included in the Boston Marathon, but those violent photos have been associated with this conversation ever since, the Guardian says.

The US women's football team has always been vocal on issues that the players support, speaking out on LGBTQI+ issues and fighting for equal pay.

In one tournament match against Japan they wore their training jerseys inside out to make their feelings known to US Soccer.

After they had just won the World Cup and when Donald Trump was in the White House the team turned down an invitation to visit as a protest against his stewardship.

USA women's soccer player Megan Rapinoe (C) and other team members celebrate with the trophy in front of the City Hall after the ticker tape parade for the women's World Cup champions on July 10, 2019 in New York.

The US women's football team's World Cup celebrations did not extend to going to the White House. Photo: AFP

Climate enters the fray

UK protesters began disrupting major sports events in 2022, and since then several English Premier League matches have been targeted with protesters chaining themselves to goalposts in an effort to delay the matches.

They have also disrupted play at Wimbeldon by throwing confetti and puzzle pieces onto a court.

During the 2022 NRL grand final, former league and rugby player Mark McLinden ran onto the pitch wearing a t-shirt saying: "end coal, gas & oil" on the front and the back read "for our kids".

He was fined $A5000 and banned from all games, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Israel's war on Gaza prompted Australian cricketer Usman Khawaja to write "Freedom is a human right" and "All lives are equal" on his boots in the colours of the Palestinian flag during training for the first test against Pakistan.

Khawaja did not take it well when the International Cricket Council forbade him to wear the same boots during the tests. The player has vowed to fight the decision.

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