The clash between New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association over opposition to a half-billion-dollar cash injection in the code by American private equity firm Silverlake continued yesterday, with a mediation process starting in Wellington.
New Zealand Rugby is keen to sell between 10-15% of the commercial arm of the organisation, because of losses into the millions of dollars thanks to Covid-19.
The Players Union says it is concerned about the commercialisation of Māori and Pacific culture plus a perceived high cost of borrowing, as well as fears that once New Zealand loses the stake, it may never get it back.
Former Black Ferns captain, New Zealand Māori Rugby Board chair and New Zealand Rugby director Dr Farah Palmer toldTe Ao Tapatahi this morning she will do all she can to make sure no cultural misappropriation will happen in the deal.
"We're looking at what we can do to value the contribution that tikanga Māori and te ao Māori make to rugby," she says.
"We believe these are taonga tuku iho that have been passed on and that our role, as the Māori Rugby Board in particular, is to be kaitiaki of this.
We're doing what we can to put in some protection and to ensure that we're part of the decisionmaking if any tikanga is incorporated into the future of what things might look like."
Even though the haka won't stop being performed before rugby games if the deal with Silverlake goes ahead, Dr Palmer accepts that the equity firm could still be making money out of the haka as NZ Rugby is doing the same to bring in funding.
"But what we want to do is to make sure that we do that respectfully. We will be keeping an eye on how the haka and other elements such as waiata, our Māori values, our tikanga in general, we're looking at how we can really protect those things. We've had conversations with Silverlake executives who are keen to learn and who seem genuinely interested and how they can make sure they do that properly.
Palmer says that an independent report was done on behalf of the New Zealand Māori Rugby Board to make sure that elements of culture were protected. Dr Palmer says, "We appreciate that the Players Association has mentioned its concerns around Māori and Pasifika culture being exploited. We've done this report to make sure that we've done our due diligence."