31 Aug 2020

Diversity of New Zealand Rugby League's leaders questioned

3:00 pm on 31 August 2020

Former Kiwis player Tony Kemp wants New Zealand Rugby League to better reflect the community that plays the game.

Tony Kemp

Tony Kemp Photo: Photosport

Kemp wants the New Zealand Rugby League Board to have more Māori and Pasifika voices and for more funding to filter down to the grassroots game.

In an explosive open letter to New Zealand Rugby League, that Kemp posted on social media, "articulated what most of New Zealand is thinking around the support of the game especially for our Māori and Pasifika whanau that have delivered an experience for their communities with no funding support whatsoever," the 25-capped international said.

"I'm making a statement that basically calls out the equity issue where the product is being delivered by Māori and Pasifika but the funding is going directly to an organisation that isn't sharing it and I don't think it's right."

Kemp said 60 percent of the participation rates for rugby league are in Auckland and "the reality of it is that the game is predominantly played by Māori north of Orewa and south of the Bombay Hills and it is Pasifika if you know anything about Auckland rugby league".

Mt Albert v Manurewa.


Kemp is critical of the NZRL for not being more inclusive of Auckland Rugby League, because of their Pasifika participation rates and the New Zealand Māori Rugby League when it came to decision making for the grassroots game.

"No amount of scholars, doctors, Sport NZ employees etc are going to give you insight into their game as they can," Kemp said.

The former NZRL GM Football, NZRL GM High Performance and NZRL Appointment Panel member said the national body should aim for ethnic diversity before gender diversity on their board.

"Both Sport NZ and the NZRL have forgotten to recognise the prominence Māori play in regards to Rugby League in this country," he wrote in his letter.

"By not recognising Māori with at least one independent seat at the board before a gender based approach lacks integrity and is contrary to the treaty. Its one thing to have Māori members on the board as opposed to having a Maori representative elected to that position by their peers and is a friendly reminder of the casual racism the current constitution allows for."

NZRL is currently reviewing the way the game is delivered and Kemp had asked to be part of the advisory group but NZRL said no.

Kemp, who is a former Warriors coach and chairman of several community clubs, said he had concerns about how NZRL distributed the funding the organisation received - which is around $7 million.

"Less than 3 percent of the money is going into the grassroots game," Kemp said.

New NZRL chief executive Greg Peters.

New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters. Photo: Photosport

"You'll see if you look at those [annual] budgets the majority of the funding is spent either on salaries, directors fees or the international game and what we're saying is New Zealand can't survive on that mentality

"From a financial position seven board directors and the ceo are getting more money than the game is as a whole being shared out in New Zealand. That simply tells you that there is something wrong.

"Even though we don't have any internationals this year the game is still languishing at grassroots,

"[NZRL] has become an events centre, focussing on internationals as opposed to doing what they are meant to be doing as a national sporting office and looking after their community."

Kemp said he hoped the government took notice of his letter.

"I think [sports minister] Grant Robertson needs to talk to the NSO and and Sport New Zealand and I think they need to get the right people invested in the game at the correct meetings.

"So [New Zealand Māori Rugby League's] John Devonshire should be on the advisory committee and you should have Pasifika at the table, you should have more of the Auckland Rugby League have a bigger say, but the main point here is listen to what the community is saying, stop brushing it under the carpet."

Kemp said New Zealand Rugby League has not responded to his letter, but he had another message for them: "You need to strengthen your relationships with New Zealand Māori Rugby League, Auckland Rugby League, Pasifika community and it's not them that needs to adapt, it's you that needs to adapt."

RNZ approached NZRL chief executive Greg Peters for comment but he declined.