Barbara Chapman at NZ Rugby awards

NZ Rugby sponsor ASB’s chief executive Barbara Chapman kicked off last nights NZ Rugby awards with a speech that warned about the dangers to the sport of player conduct.

The Rugby Union seem to be taking player behaviour and attitudes to women seriously, but would do well to take heed of what Chapman said.

Also last night, for the first time in the Rugby Union’s history, a woman was appointed to the board – Dr Farah Palmer.

The rugby world is changing with the times. I think this is a good thing. I have been a big fan of rugby all my life, but have been disappointed in the past by some of the behaviours and attitudes that were prevalent. I hope things continue to improve.

Chapman’s speech:

Kia Ora

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome.

There’s no doubt, this has been another hugely successful year for rugby in New Zealand, across all levels of the game.

But along with success on the field, over the past year the role of rugby, the conduct of rugby players and the importance of sport in the context of New Zealand society has been the subject of a great deal of media scrutiny and kitchen table debate.

I see this debate as a good thing.

Rugby, as well as being something we love, is a lightning rod for everything which is good, and a few things which are not good, about New Zealand. As a nation we feel that rugby represents us and we want to be proud of it. As a sponsor our team at ASB aligns with what is best about rugby, and we feel bad when that standard is not met.

And as a New Zealander, and a woman, I share with you the joys and highlights of the game but despair at the controversy which can engulf the sport we all love.

In many ways, rugby is a microcosm of New Zealand society; so much good and positive work is done by the rugby community and yet, just like New Zealand society as a whole, there is always more work to be done around building diversity and ensuring people from all backgrounds feel included and valued.

And because rugby is the lightning rod for this debate in New Zealand, as a New Zealander and a sponsor I applaud the work Brent Impey and Steve Tew and his team have done to critically review what good conduct and good governance means in sport, and how to set their bar higher.

I applaud the rugby union on the appointment of Dr Farah Palmer to their board after nearly 125 years of no women representation, and wish her well, but tonight – on behalf of the team at ASB and as the major sponsor of tonight’s event – our applause needs to go to all the outstanding men and women of New Zealand rugby who have, do and will continue to make us proud New Zealanders.

This is your night to celebrate. Thank you for letting us be part of it.

Merry Christmas.