30 May 2018

The name game: rugby's latest goodwill offering

11:46 pm on 30 May 2018

Opinion - Last night a clip started making its way around social media.

Called #SayMyName, it's a group of Super Rugby players correctly pronouncing their own names for the benefit of the audience.

It's directed at the fact that some of the most prominent names in Aotearoa, the ones that get called out when they handle a rugby ball, routinely get butchered by commentators and fans alike.

Dalton Papalii.

Dalton Papalii. Photo: Photosport

It's a pretty simple format, and does step outside the narrative that it's just Māori and Pasifika names that aren't being given the right attention. While Michael Alaalatoa and Dalton Papali'i's explanations are to be expected, James Lentjes and Wes Goosen get a chance to set the record straight on their mispronounced monikers as well.

While the clip does the job of getting its message across, it is a clear facsimile of a spot that Coconet TV ran back in 2016 around the pronunciation of player names in the NRL. Also, Crusaders assistant coach Tabai Matson doesn't convey the concept of a silent 'm' quite properly.

NZ Rugby's press release about #SayMyName did admit that it was a "small step", but also that the idea was that "it's okay to get it wrong, but they applaud people for making a real effort to get it right". Not that they planned it this way, but they managed to provide a case study for that initiative just before it was released.

A week and a half ago, the All Blacks squad was named. It was a fun morning, but in my coverage of it I couldn't resist making a joke at the expense of chairman Brent Impey's pronunciation of 'kia ora'.

Old habits, I thought, die hard with the middle-aged Pākehā establishment - and you can't get much more establishment than the governing body of our national game.

On reflection, though, if it really was an old habit then Impey probably wouldn't have bothered with a te reo greeting at all and just said 'good morning' to the assembled media. He did try, just not very hard - which I guess made it seem a bit worse at the time. Basically, if you're going to do it, do it right ... right?

Fast forward a few days and we were sitting in Tamaki College and Impey had the task of reading out the first pro Black Ferns squad. We all waited for another cringeworthy moment, but he breezed through the opening greeting in te reo. Not only that, he managed to pretty much nail the Pasifika and Māori-heavy names as best he could. Eyebrows were raised all round, and any follow-up jokes about the subject went out the window.

In fact, it's getting a bit difficult to poke any holes in what NZ Rugby have done lately, unless you're unhappy about top players getting yanked out of their Super Rugby teams for All Black training camps.

So far they've committed themselves to maintaining an equality-laden brand image (with somewhat impeccable timing, it should be noted), while giving the Black Ferns central playing contracts. There's an investment in the women's game that is paying off quite well: not only are they World Champions, but the top Sevens players are becoming household names.

Now, don't get me wrong - no one deserves a pat on the back for simply saying someone's name properly. But the fact that while Impey may have not been pitch-perfect when he read out the Black Ferns, it was obvious that by trying hard he saved himself from any criticism and created a bit of goodwill.

That's something that NZ Rugby have always had a bit of a hard time acquiring among their critics, so the more of it, the better.