The New Zealand Maori Rugby Team – A model of Affirmative Action – or a step closer to Apartheid?

The New Zealand Maori Rugby Team, recently coined the Maori All Blacks, were the first ever New Zealand sporting team to tour abroad beyond Australia. Known at its inception, as the New Zealand Native Football Team, the team has always been an amazing ambassador for New Zealand Rugby, Maori Culture and the proud bi-cultural foundations of Aotearoa New Zealand. Last year, the Maori All Blacks completed a clean sweep, two game tour of Japan. This took the teams winning streak to 18 straight games, all against quality international opposition including the likes of England, Ireland and the United States.

But is this team, which first toured in 1888, merely an ongoing reminder of the separate set of standards we have created for New Zealanders based on their cultural or ethnic background. A standout premise of this team is the fact that one has to have whakapapa/genealogical links to Maori ancestors in order to be eligible for selection.  One may ask why we do not have a national representative rugby team for Chinese New Zealanders, Samoan New Zealanders or New Zealanders of European Descent. Why are these teams non-existent? And why do they not receive the same level of recognition, funding and exposure on the world stage.

When we look at presumed racism and the intent that lies behind mechanisms that some might consider positive/affirmative in regards to cultural progress and identification, it pays to look more closely at the definition of Racism. The United Nations does not define ‘racism’ specifically; it defines ‘racial discrimination’ in its Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination as;

“the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

From this relatively robust definition, it is fair to infer that the true premise of racial discrimination, lies in intent.  For example, the definition mentions ‘purpose or effect’, which highlights the fact that when intent is averse, there is more than good reason to question the validity or credibility of an institution or entity.

This leads us to ask a few key questions that more carefully determine whether or not the core intent of the existence of the Maori All Blacks Team, is progressive or antagonistic. Questions such as:

Do the Maori All Blacks exist to promote the superiority of the Maori race over that of other cultures within the Aotearoa New Zealand cultural context?

Is the primary purpose of this team to spite non-Maori in any antagonistic or belittling manner?

If it is OK for us to have a Maori All Black team, why is it not then feasible to have a similar team for other select ethnic groups?

My answer to the first two questions is a resounding NO! The New Zealand Maori Rugby Team has history, purpose and exists as a positive mechanism. It highlights to the global community New Zealands bicultural foundations and the importance and relevance of its indigenous culture in contemporary NZ society. The intent or purpose for the existence of this team is in no way linked to trying to offend those from other cultural groups. There is no question that New Zealand is a contemporary multicultural nation – this team helps to reinforce the fact that the nation we have today is proud of our bi-cultural foundations.

This leads on to another very important question on the back of everyone’s minds:

Why is it not then politically correct to have a European All Black Team? Or to add to that an All Black team representative of any other of New Zealands many cultural groupings?

 I believe the answer to this question is relatively straightforward – there has never been a Pakeha All Black team (besides the one that excluded its Maori countrymen on various tours to South Africa during the 1900’s). The intent that would lie behind the establishment of such a team would most definitely be odious and (based on the attitudes perpetuated by those in the media) would probably be based on unfuelled spite and emotion, rather than any true reason of cultural progress or benefit to race relations within the Aotearoa New Zealand context.

The continuing existence of the New Zealand Maori All Blacks is definitely not a bad thing. It may not seem politically correct when phased in line with the misinformed social construct of ‘equality’ that is so frequently misused within the New Zealand political context. We only have to log on to the statistics New Zealand website to be exposed to statistics that reinforce the socio-economic demise of Maori, giving even less relevance to the ‘we are all one people’ argument. But it is not a bad thing that we are not all ‘one people’ – the true racism lies in trying to reinforce the fact that we are all ‘one’; when we are anything but.

This team at its very LEAST, provides positive role models to a generation of young Maori/New Zealanders that in may cases do not have much to look forward to.  At its MOST it provides a positive pathway for young Maori to show the world why the Maori culture is still relevant, is continuing to grow and is unique to New Zealand. It gives a clear message to the world that New Zealand is leading the way in indigenous revitilisation and social progress through the existence of social mechanisms that support positive and ongoing partnership between Maori and wider New Zealand society.

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