Winston Peters has called the allegations of racism made against a Hurricanes board member “knee-jerk reactions” and “wokeism gone utterly mad”.
He’s spoken out after the board member, Troy Bowker, copped backlash for his comments on a post on LinkedIn.
The post, shared by Sir Ian Taylor, was a cartoon referencing Māori and Pasifika sailing abilities pre-colonisation, using it to address the debate over our country’s name.
Bowker wrote “what a load of absolute nonsense” beneath the cartoon, claiming Sir Ian was “sucking up to the left Māori-loving agenda” and also asking him “what per centage Māori are you?”.
Sir Ian’s mother is Māori and he grew up in a largely Māori community in Raupunga, on the East Coast.
“When I was growing up, I can still remember the casual racism back then. The number of people who said, 'You don't look Māori'". It was kind of like, 'You're lucky you don't look Māori'”. It happened all the time and it's something we just carried with us,” he said.
When asked about the response to his post, Sir Ian said he was “gobsmacked”.
“It was a great Dom Scott cartoon, and it was relevant to the Olympics, so it just seemed like 'here’s something to have a little say about'.”
What he was excited about, though, was that the next generation will think of Māori culture as something to treasure.
“I’ve given up talking to old people about these things. What’s so encouraging now is that in schools, we’re looking back with optimism and excitement about where we came from.”
Backlash has flooded in since Bowker’s comments, with Hurricanes veteran TJ Perenara calling them insulting and containing “underlying racism”.
Perenara posted to Twitter to reveal he’s in talks with management about where the club goes from here.
Peters told 1 NEWS New Zealand is in trouble if people cannot express their opinions and exercise their freedom of speech, but current politicians have been quick to condemn Bowker’s words.
“He is a major cause of embarrassment to my team and to a sport that I value highly,” Speaker Trevor Mallard said.
Mallard, a long-time member of the Hurricanes, also said he won’t be attending any games while Bowker is on the board.
Sports Minister Grant Roberston was also unimpressed.
“In terms of his comments, I thought they were appalling. There’s a large number of Hurricanes players who have Māori heritage and they’ll be very disappointed by this,” he said.
In response to their reactions, Peters told 1 NEWS “those who wish to judge need to be very cautious”, and that “those who can’t tolerate a different view cannot do so because they can’t see the other side”.
Bowker today told 1 NEWS in an email he will not be resigning from his board position, which he has because he is a shareholder.
He said he respects Perenara’s freedom of speech, however wished he was granted the same respect for expressing his own opinion.
He said he believes most New Zealanders wouldn’t find his comments remotely racist, and that the country needs to “wake up to the danger of the insipid cancel culture”.
Hurricanes chair Iain Potter declined an interview, however a spokesperson for the team confirmed the board had been approached by players following Bowker’s remarks online.
In a statement, Potter said the club cannot control Bowker’s opinions but it does not support these particular ones.