New Zealand rugby union chiefs on Thursday condemned “lowlife” racial abuse aimed at Auckland Blues coach Pat Lam after the team’s worst-ever start to a Super Rugby season.
New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) chief executive Steve Tew said he was appalled at the attacks, while Blues chief executive Andy Dalton described them as “ugly” and “totally unacceptable.”
Lam, a New Zealander of Samoan descent, broke down in tears on Wednesday describing how he and his family have faced anonymous racial abuse on social media and talkback radio over the Blues’ performances.
Dalton said some comments on the Blues’ own Web site had suggested the team’s form slump was because of Lam’s Pacific island background, despite attempts to moderate the site’s content.
“We are dealing with a lot of criticism that is racially motivated on our Web site, we’re deleting that and have filters in place, but some of it’s getting through and certainly some has impacted on Pat’s family,” Dalton told Radio New Zealand. “I can’t even repeat them, I wouldn’t waste my breath frankly, but they are absolutely lowlife.”
Dalton said the entire Auckland franchise was hurting after losing five of their first six opening matches, but singling out Lam’s ethnicity was not acceptable.
“It’s not racism within Auckland rugby, I think it’s an element of our society,” he said. “It’s a very ugly part of our society and we’ve all got a responsibility to shut that down.”
Tew said the NZRU had a zero-tolerance approach to racism, but the anonymous jibes about Lam’s ethnicity pointed to a wider problem in New Zealand.
“As a New Zealander — because I don’t think this is only a rugby issue — I’m appalled,” Tew told reporters.
“I find the whole ability by people to hide behind social media, and be faceless and to criticize people personally, and to bring race and religion or anything else into it, is just a very disappointing part of our country,” he said.
Lam choked up on Wednesday recounting the vitriolic attacks he and his family had endured as the three-time champions struggle in this year’s competition.
“It’s the faceless people, and that’s social media and so forth and talkback, when people say things that are pretty offensive, making out that it’s because I’m an islander that we’re losing, that’s just offensive,” he told reporters.
New Zealand is a major destination for migrants from Polynesia and almost a third of the All Blacks’ 30-man squad that won the Rugby World Cup last year boasted Pacific islander heritage.