NZ Rugby is looking as fractured as ever
NZ Rugby is looking as fractured as ever

BusinessJune 17, 2024

Rugby’s governance problem: who are the ‘blazeratti’?

NZ Rugby is looking as fractured as ever
NZ Rugby is looking as fractured as ever

The governance battle between NZ Rugby and the provincial unions is more than just grassroots ‘democracy’ vs a new corporate model for an organisation worth billions.

Who are the key players?

  1. NZ Rugby oversees the silver fern logo, teams’ names and international competition entries.

  2. 26 Provincial unions (PUs) oversee community, amateur and provincial rugby. PU boards are run by volunteers. The PUs are affiliated members of NZR.

  3. The New Zealand Rugby Players Association represents and protects the interest of the players.

All three are meant to work together to govern the sport.

What’s the big deal?

An independent governance review – known as the “Pilkington Report” and negotiated as part of NZ Rugby’s 2022 $200m deal with Silver Lake – suggested the game’s governance was misogynistic, sexist and racist.

There was an entrenched “rite of passage” and a sense of entitlement to progression for male PU board members, the review found. (In certain governance circles, groups of men like this are known as the “blazeratti”.)

The NZ Rugby board wearing fresh blazers in 2018

There was “strong resistance” to gender equity, and it was seen as an “impediment” and “political correctness” by some within the organisation.

The review found qualified women weren’t putting themselves through the “barbaric” process of standing for the board which involved “character assassination”. There was a perception by women that there was “unprofessional behaviour”.

The review also found Māori and Pasifika were not well represented in the governance structure given their dominance in the playing base and “… a single voice of any kind on the governing board is too easily marginalised and ignored”.

Following the release of the review’s findings, NZ Rugby and the PUs agree change needs to occur, but they disagree on what that looks like.

One second, what is the “blazeratti”?

The “blazeratti” are men who feel entitled to their position, “blazer”, recognition and perks, who will act to protect their own interests. This group enacts practices and policies, and promotes an entrenched culture that excludes women and others from contributing or progressing. The Spinoff is aware of several women at all levels of rugby who have walked away from the sport because of this.

Not all men are part of the blazeratti. There’s some good ones there. However, there are currently more men named Mike sitting on PU boards than there are women chairing them. Currently there is only one female PU chair – shout out to Waikato – while a few others are deputy chairs. Reminder, there are 26 PUs in New Zealand.

Women make up approximately 33% of PU board directors. It’s the highest it’s ever been and NZR has been working hard behind the scenes to get the number of women in governance up.

What does “change” mean exactly?

Previously there were three ways to get on the NZR board – nominated, elected or appointed.

To qualify for the three nominated positions, you had to be put forward by your PU then you had to lobby your other PU peers to get their vote. It was effectively a popularity contest.

These pathways were deemed to be “not fit for purpose” and are now gone. The reviewers recommended the current NZR board be dismantled then reestablished with independent directors.

Where’s the disagreement?

The reviewers recommended a new board structure, with nine completely independent board members, selected by an appointments panel.

Separately, there would be a “stakeholder council” consisting of an independent chair, one representative each from the NZ Māori Rugby Board, NZ Pasifika advisory board, Super Rugby, Players Association, NZR Foundation, three representatives from PUs and representatives from youth and women’s rugby.

This was known as “proposal one” and was supported by a range of former players, the Māori Rugby Board and the Players Association, among others.

The PUs voted against this at a Special General Meeting on May 30. Instead, the PUs voted for their own proposal, known as “proposal two”. They agreed on a somewhat “independent” board, but wanted three NZ Rugby board directors to have served on PU boards and have “sufficient knowledge” of community/provincial rugby.

An independent review panel looked at both proposals, to see if the proposals aligned with the recommendations from the Pilkington report. That review panel found proposal two was inconsistent with the report’s recommendations, and in response to needing three directors with PU experience, it said: “The logic behind the requirement is unclear.”

This is where things get a tad … muddy.

Under the PU proposal, appointments to the NZR board would be made by an Appointments and Remuneration Panel (ARP). But that panel can’t be established until a Governance Advisory Panel (GAP) is established.

GAP is to consist of three PU representatives and one representative each from Super Rugby, the Māori Rugby Board, the Players Association, the Pasifika Advisory Group and an independent chair.

They then appoint three members to the ARP and create the “Skills and Competencies Framework” for appointing the independent NZR Board directors.

An AGM is being held to ratify this on July 12, with the new board expected to be in place by early August … potentially wishful thinking.

My brain hurts…

Me too. Ultimately, the PUs want their voices heard, but to point out the obvious, there is a big difference between governing a provincial union and a large corporate entity worth billions of dollars.

Some PUs recognised this and didn’t vote for “proposal two”, but will have to go along with it because that’s what the majority wanted. (Side note: each PU got at least two votes. But some PUs get more of a say than others depending on how many teams they have in their catchment area. For example, Wellington, Canterbury and Auckland are big and get more votes. Wairarapa Bush … not so many.)

What now?

The Players Association said they would create their own board in partnership with NZR if proposal two was voted in. They’ve remained quiet this week. The current NZR board members will step aside and can reapply for positions. Dame Farah Palmer, the first ever NZR female board director, won’t be returning as she’s served three terms.

Current NZR board chair and former governor general Dame Patsy Reddy said she would resign if proposal two was voted in. Again, no word as yet, and the other women – Rowena Davenport and Catherine Savage – have also been quiet. But why say anything until you know exactly what the framework is?

New Zealand Rugby board member and former Black Ferns captain Dr Farah Palmer. (Photo: Getty.)

 So does that mean we’ll have less diversity on the NZR Board?

Potentially. The PUs have said they are committed to diversity, but there is only a small pool of women (and others) to choose from when it comes to the three positions that require knowledge and experience at PU level. Also, why would you subject yourself to the “blazeratti” and the culture that comes with it? Genuine question!

But isn’t there a government mandated quota for women on sports boards?

Correct! The quota was introduced as part of the Women and Girls in Sport strategy under the last government which stated all national sports boards were to have 40% women by the end of 2021. NZR didn’t hit the target (the only sports board to fail) and had $280,000 in Sport NZ funding held back. They finally hit it in 2023, but if they go backwards they face losing that funding again.

Are you saying rugby could lose government funding if they don’t have enough women on the NZR board?


I think I need a cup of tea and a lie down after that.

Me too. But watch this space in the coming weeks. There’s more to come in this saga.

Keep going!