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'You suspect another white, male Cantabrian isn't quite what NZR needs right now': Talk of diversity no substitute for actual diversity

By Hamish Bidwell
Codie Taylor and Stewart Mitchell. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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It’s hard not to wonder if New Zealand Rugby have missed an opportunity here.

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At most other times in our game’s history, Stewart Mitchell would have been the ideal choice as NZR chairman.

A Shirley club stalwart, who played for the New Zealand Colts and went on to serve on the Canterbury, Crusaders and NZR boards, Mitchell has a long and successful association with the game.

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An accountant by trade, with strong corporate governance credentials, he epitomises the ‘good rugby man’ in so many ways. At least the Canterbury ideal of one, anyway.

These are interesting times for NZR, times in which they need to be seen to be making progress. To be diversifying and innovating and shedding the air of cronyism that appears to accompany so many appointments within the organisation.

By every traditional measure, Mitchell is a man to be respected and reckoned with. But, in absolute fairness, you suspect another white, male Cantabrian isn’t quite what NZR needs right now.

We’ve witnessed an occasionally bitter war of words between NZR and our leading players of late.

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We’ve been through the specifics of their disagreement about private equity investment in NZR before, so we might leave that to the side. Essentially, though, the debate seems to have come down to who knows best.

The young and inclusive and worldly lot from the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association (NZRPA) and the dopey old duffers at NZR. Neither stereotype is strictly fair, but that’s the reality of how each side tends to be portrayed.

I’ve no idea how competent Bailey Mackey is for instance, but he was the main alternative to Mitchell in this instance.

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A former Ngati Porou East Coast player and president, Mackey’s largely made his name in the media. These days it’s Auckland – rather than Gisborne – that he calls home, running a successful television production company.

He’s young, Maori and far better in touch with players than many other folks in rugby administration.

Does that mean he should have gone from NZR board member to NZR board chairman? The honest answer is maybe.

It’s all very well for someone such as Mitchell to talk about diversity, as he did after his appointment. To sing the praises of new NZR deputy chair Farah Palmer and enthuse about the hard work and challenges that lie ahead.

Equally, though, this game doesn’t really need any more talk about diversity. It actually just needs a Palmer or a Mackey in charge.

You don’t need to talk about inclusivity then. There’s no need to say how much you care about various issues.

Simply by appointing someone beyond rugby’s traditional administrative framework, your actions do all the talking for you.

If NZR wants to win the hearts and minds of the rugby community – let alone the NZRPA – then they have to help themselves. They have to recognise the game is a broad church and that perhaps there are different ways of looking at things and different administrative pathways.

It’s not always particularly healthy to say that – for all their undoubted success – the way they do things in Canterbury is the way that we all should do it.

People suspect that NZR is a bit of a closed shop and that difference is tolerated, rather than celebrated. That you’re either one of us or you’re one of them.

As well-credentialed as Stewart Mitchell is, his appointment will have done little to erase those suspicions.

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'You suspect another white, male Cantabrian isn't quite what NZR needs right now': Talk of diversity no substitute for actual diversity

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