NZ Football admits historical discrimination against Māori players

Victor Waters
Source: 1News

Little did the students at Mt Roskill intermediate know, they were opening up a window into New Zealand’s sporting future, as Auckland City FC and Māori Football Aotearoa collaborated in a training session at the school in te reo Māori.

For former players like Ngāpuhi descendent Gordon Watson, it's a moment he never thought possible.

"No chance, the era I grew up in football this sort of thing would be complete fantasy."

Watson says football was often not a safe environment for him and others.

"Racism in my experience of football as a junior in grassroots, youth player, senior player, coach, administrator and broadcaster it was normal because in society, racism and prejudice are normal but that's changing now.

"I can't speak for other Māori I can only speak for my own experience but the racism could be visceral, a situation that you think twice, did that person mean something by what they said?

"There was always that sense of having to guess and that can be very disruptive to one's sense of self esteem, one's self-belief," he said.

Yet it’s Māori players who’ve brought the beautiful game in New Zealand some of its most celebrated moments.

Wynton Rufer, Rory Fallon, Amber Hearn and Maia Jackman among history's most important players with Māori whakapapa.

Even today, both our national team captains, Winston Reid and Abby Erceg are of Māori descent too.

New Zealand Football admits it should have done more.

"Football has historically had a very clear feel to it, and that is being pākehā and male led, what has happened in the past has got us to the position we're in now, we recognise the mamae (pain) in the past," said New Zealand Football Legacy and Inclusion General Manager, Paula Hansen.

"To have Māori feel excluded, if they take the jump to get involved and then feel excluded that's not good enough for us now and it's not good enough for us moving forward," she said.

"There's a deep deep drive to that, its not going to be a token tick box exercise" said Hansen.

Next year, New Zealand will host it's biggest ever sporting event, the Women's World Cup.

It's so-called legacy project has been created as part of that, to encourage more Māori and minorities to take up the sport.

But for that to happen New Zealand Football acknowledges it needs to create a safer, more inclusive environment.

That means including more tikanga Māori within the organisation and working more closely with Māori Football Aotearoa.

"We apply our te ao Māori values in them, manaaki and stuff, as soon as we see children we can grab and connect and bring in, we will do that," said Māori Football Aotearoa chairman, Phillip Pickering - Parker.

"I've said in the past, sometimes timing in life is what the universe asks of us, I think as a nation and a sport we weren't ready for something like this when I was coming through in the 80s and 90s," said Pickering - Parker.

New Zealand Football admits there's a lot of work to do.

But it won’t be doing it alone. Māori Football will be taking a lead too.