NZ Cricket's silence on Scott Kuggeleijn just another head in the sand

11:42 am on 14 February 2019

Opinion - Inevitability. It's something that sports fans feel a sense of a lot. The All Blacks will win, the Warriors will lose, that sort of thing. You get used to it pretty early on if you dedicate your life to following a team or code.

Which makes NZ Cricket's decision to not address the Scott Kuggeleijn issue at the start all the more baffling.

The sign that resulted in a woman being kicked out of Westpac stadium.

The sign that resulted in a woman being kicked out of Westpac stadium. Photo: Supplied

First off, this isn't a column about what happened in regards to his rape trials. There are plenty of respected writers out there giving their opinions on the matter that are far more articulate than what I can achieve.

This is about, yet again, a sporting body having a problem and just hoping it goes away. Sound familiar? It's happened a few times.

Chiefs players accused of mistreating a stripper they hired, and Wellington Lions winger Losi Filipo's assault case spring to mind. They were within a few weeks of each other back in 2016.

Both were catastrophes that really sullied the reputation of the organisations involved, in different ways.

The Chiefs belatedly launched an investigation after the accusations surfaced in the media, with sponsors and management casting aspersions on the accuser because of her profession, although Chiefs chief executive Andrew Flexman quickly walked those comments back.

It cost the Chiefs a massive amount of credibility and prompted a wider review of the culture at NZ Rugby which found 36 cases of misconduct over four years.

Wellington Rugby Union, meanwhile, faced some social media reaction to Filipo's discharge without conviction for his assault on four people in a street fight, and failed to front-foot the issue by publicly acknowledging it or imposing consequences on him until it was far too late.

In the end, Filipo ended up sitting out the remainder of the 2016 season anyway having his discharge without conviction overturned (he was found guilty), and quietly made his on-field debut a year later. Wellington Rugby's silence on the case hurt them, when publicly calling Filipo out would not.

(The irony in regards to that time for rugby is the one scandal that actually did receive a swift response was the one that actually deserved to be ignored.)

The problem is these sports bodies seem to think ignoring the problem will make it go away - but as these examples show, they don't.

People talk, and these days those conversations are out there for everyone to see and be part of. It's pretty difficult to imagine how any sporting body would be unable to detect the issues that would eventually erupt like the Kuggeleijn situation has. After all, these places have their own social media feeds, someone's watching them, and they should know full well that the ability of people to make their feelings known has only amplified since the Chiefs and Filipo cases.

It doesn't help that the top dogs at sporting bodies seem to stay behind the scenes when it comes to social media. The discourse that exists in that realm is utterly crucial to public relations - it's their shop window, and probably of more importance than any press release or conference.

On top of that, there's been the reaction from other sections of social media: plenty of thinly-veiled misogynistic comments flying around about sexual assault, in support of NZ Cricket, that are completely incompatible with the sort of values that NZ Cricket is trying to promote.

Perhaps, from NZ Cricket's perspective, things were mostly going fine. Maybe they thought there was nothing to worry about as long as the stands at Eden Park and Seddon Park were packed on Friday and Sunday night.

But they should have known that taking away signs from people reading "no means no" during the double-header New Zealand verses India matches in Wellington at the weekend was a bad look.

The stadium's manager met with the group whose signs were taken off them and apologised. NZ Cricket public affairs manager Richard Boock also apologised.

The organisation has also moved to bring in workshops and guidance on sexual consent for its teams.

But is that good enough? Would those higher-ups have apologised if it wasn't being made a big deal of on social media? Does the organisation's silence on Kuggeleijn himself tacitly accept his behaviour?

What else should NZ Cricket do? Well, acknowledging what Kuggeleijn did and admonishing such behaviour would be a start.

People want to be heard, want the team they're supporting to care about what the fans think. If they don't, those fans will stop caring as well.

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