Sports stars finding their voices on issues

By James Perry

TJ Perenara's appearance at Ihumātao over the weekend is the latest example of professional athletes showing support for causes they believe in.  

Athletes who spend most of their time on the road, travelling the world don't often get the chance to express their views around topical issues, or can only do so on social media platforms.

Perenara told Te Ao Māori News yesterday that being at Ihumātao was a humbling experience, "there's only so much you can do from afar, and being here with my whānau it's really sunk in to me how important it is to be here to be apart of it with our people, with our whenua."

It's not the first time Perenara has voiced his opinion in public.

He has posted his support for the group at Ihumātao on platforms such as Instagram for weeks now. Last year, he and fellow Māori players Nehe Milner-Skudder and Brad Weber spoke out against Israel Folau's views on homosexuals.

Coach Steve Hansen said in 2018 of Perenara in particular "I was really proud of him. I thought what he did tweet was on the money that it's OK to be who you are."

Hansen similarly had no issue with Perenara showing support for Ihumātao by writing the name on his wrist band for the Bledisloe Cup shellacking of Australia on Saturday, "it's his decision," he said. "It doesn't bother me. I didn't even notice it, to be honest." 

Perenara, while not unfamiliar with using his profile to draw attention to issues he finds close to his heart, he is also not alone. Māori All Black Sean Wainui also attended Ihumātao in recent weeks.

Māori sports stars are also using their platform to draw attention to issues closer to home, and less political.

ANZ Championship winning Pulse netball team members Tiana Metuarau and Aliyah Dunn, affectionately known as the teams "Māori Council" organised a fundraiser just days after Wellington's Tapu Te Ranga Marae burned down in July. With only a few days notice more than one hundred youth attended a netball clinic with the Pulse.

Perenara is not the only All Black to have drawn attention to indigenous land issues by writing names on his wrist band. Former All Black prop Kane Hames took to Soldier Field in Chicago for the Māori All Blacks in 2016 with "Standing Rock" on his wrist as a show of support to the group protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline through Native American land, 1,300km away to the west of Chicago.