Champion of women's and Māori rugby knighted in Wellington

By Tema Hemi

Dame Farah Rangikoepa Palmer was formally knighted in Wellington today for her services to rugby in Aotearoa, as a player and captain of the Black Ferns and as an administrator, becoming the first woman to be appointed to the board of New Zealand Rugby.

Dame Farah (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato) was recognised for her near-lifelong commitment to the game in Aotearoa, particularly to growing women’s and Māori rugby.

The Massey University professor said today’s ceremony was humbling, “and it’s really lovely to have my whānau there, and to see my mum having a bit of a tangi was a surprise but it's lovely they get to be here and to feel proud as well.”

Born in Te Kuiti and raised in Piopio, she won three World Cups captaining the Black Ferns to consecutive championships in 1998, 2002 and 2005 during a decorated playing career.

Dame Farah is the co-vice chair of NZR, and as such is pushing the union to raise the profile and commitment to Māori rugby.

“So, we've got our E tū toa e tū rangatira programmes that are run within New Zealand rugby. We've got our regional Māori committees that continue to have tournaments and so fourth. We want to get into the kura a bit more and see what we can do there. So we've got some ideas and we've got some investment from the Silver Lake deal so we've got to figure out how we can best use that."

Palmer receives her damehood.

More for Māori All Blacks?

Last year she announced that she would devote her energy in 2023 to lifting the status of Māori All Blacks rugby. She still has ambitions of getting the Māori All Blacks into the Rugby World Cup.

“The Māori All Blacks in particular might not be getting many games as we would like. So, we're looking at what we can do to try and encourage more opportunities for the Māori All Blacks because that is considered the pinnacle for our tāne. I think the Black Ferns at the moment have quite a high percentage of Māori wāhine in there so we've got to figure out what can we do to just keep that on the agenda and make sure that we don’t get left behind,” Palmer said.

Palmer said she was proud of how far Māori and women’s rugby had come and, although having been retired from rugby for a number of years now, she is still keen to strap on her boots.

“If you gave me maybe a year in the gym, I might be able to make a club team these days but you know that’s the thing I hope that every generation of players improves and gets faster and fitter. I’ve given them black jerseys when they are about to play and they're pretty rock-hard and solid. I am just so proud of where they've come.”

Māori artist Wii Taepa of Te Arawa/Te Ati Awa was also acknowledged today for his services to Māori art.