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SocietyMay 3, 2017

Canterbury Rugby is taking responsibility and taking a stand, to rid the game of racial abuse


Racist abuse is not welcome in our game. By launching We All Bleed Red, Canterbury has courageously become the first union to tackle discrimination head on in this way, writes the race relations commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy

Until you’ve run out onto a sports field and had someone call you a “black c—” or an “ape” then you’ll probably never really know what it feels like to be racially abused while playing the sport you love.

The people abusing you are using racism because they’re cheats, because they’re afraid you’re going to beat them and, importantly, because they think they can get away with it. But this must change if the game is going to thrive.

And that’s exactly what Canterbury Rugby has decided to do. Today they launched a campaign that is about much more than rugby.

We All Bleed Red reflects the union’s decision to take a stand and to stand up for its own people, Canterbury players and supporters.

The message the campaign wants to make clear is: Racist abuse is not welcome in our game. This is the main message for abusive sideline fans and players. If you’re going to racially abuse our people then you do not belong on our sports fields, in our clubrooms and in our competition.

It’s a courageous stand to take because in doing so Canterbury has become the first union to tackle discrimination of any kind head on in this way. It’s not easy to be the first but I doubt they’ll be the last.

Southbridge Rugby’s Chris McMillan didn’t hesitate to call out and shame those who thought it was OK to scream racist abuse at his players, when one guy told him they should harden up because “I get called a f—–g idiot sometimes”. Chris replied: “Well you can change your behaviour and stop being a f—–g idiot but he can’t change the colour of his skin.”

And it wasn’t just adults who were targeted, the racist abuse spread down to schoolboy rugby as well and some brave young men from St Thomas of Canterbury refused to ignore the abuse they endured.

If we see someone racially abusing someone else – whether it’s on the bus or on the sidelines – we need to do something. Support the victim. Call out the abuser. Record the incident and report it to authorities. It is not OK.

What’s important for us all to recognise is that racism isn’t a rugby problem. Nor is it a Canterbury problem: Racism and abuse is a New Zealand problem and only New Zealanders can solve it.

We are all responsible for the kind of town we live in, the kind of community we bring our kids up in, the kind of people we think we are and the kind of people we want to be.

Last September the Human Rights Commission launched New Zealand’s first nationwide anti-racism digital campaign. Since then we’ve reached more than 1.5 million people and engaged with more than 800,000. Key to our campaign has been the stories of everyday New Zealanders sharing their own personal stories. Chris McMillan’s story was one of the first we published.

The stories are as diverse as the people who’ve recorded them. From sports fields to classrooms, supermarkets to offices, universities to board rooms. We have MPs, mechanics, Harvard law students, teenagers, pensioners: their stories are all worth reading.

So while we know what the problem is – the next step for us is to identify what we are going to do about it. And that’s why what Canterbury Rugby has come up with is so important: they are taking responsibility and standing up for their own people and their own culture.

Chris McMillan told us: “I don’t think rugby is a racist game or that rugby people are racists. Some New Zealanders think racism is OK and it’s up to the rest of us to tell them they are wrong. The truth is racial abuse isn’t about rugby – it’s about people who think racist abuse is OK.

“My biggest hope is that when our guys’ kids run out on a Saturday to play rugby they won’t be subjected to the same racial abuse they’ve watched their dads face.”

Let’s hope that Chris’s biggest wish comes true. That’s Us.

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