Farah Palmer first Māori woman deputy at NZ Rugby

By Tumamao Harawira

New Zealand Rugby has its first wāhine Māori deputy chair, Ngāti Maniapoto's Dr Farah Palmer.

Stewart Mitchell has been elected chair of New Zealand Rugby with Dr Palmer as his deputy. In a hotly contested race for the chairmanship, Bailey Mackey from Ngāti Porou lost out to Mitchell.

Forr Palmer this is uncharted territory but a job she's looking forward to. 

"It's a huge privilege to be asked to take on this role as deputy chair. I've been on the board now for four years and the opportunity came up."

Palmer is a former captain of the Black Ferns, associate dean (Māori) for Massey Business School as well as chair of the Māori Rugby Board and a Sport NZ board member. She was appointed as the first female director of New Zealand Rugby in 2016 and is on the RWC 2021 committee.

Steady hand

Mitchell was elected as chair following the NZR Board meeting in Auckland today, succeeding Brent Impey, who stepped down after seven years in the role; and provides a steady and experienced hand as NZR emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic and strives to re-imagine rugby at all levels from participation to its financial model.

“New Zealand Rugby sits at a critical juncture and I am excited at the opportunity to lead rugby into a new era alongside Farah who will be an outstanding deputy," Mitchell says. "Our game faces many challenges from the community game to the professional ranks and I can’t wait to address those challenges head-on."

According to Palmer, Mitchell provides stability, given the issues facing NZRU such as the $387m deal with investment firm Silver Lake.

"I think Stewart is a bit of a dark horse. He doesn't like to blow his own trumpet. But he has been involved with a lot of iwi organisations in the past. He is on the All Blacks experience committee and works with Ngāi Tahu."

What's best

While she is happy with her new role, Farah knows the enormous pressure that she and her board face, keeping NZ Rugby at the top of world rugby.

"We have got a saying around the New Zealand Rugby Board where everyone brings their club with them and their communities with them but, when we are sitting around the board table, we are about what's best for New Zealand Rugby."

She has many things to concentrate on but Palmer also knows that Māori Rugby still needs to be front and centre.

"Māori rugby goes from the community game right through to the Māori All Blacks and we are constantly looking for opportunities that we can provide for them."