New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has today revealed the findings of its investigation into allegations made following the Chiefs Super Rugby team’s post 2015 and 2016 season celebrations.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) Chief Executive Steve Tew said the investigation involved the interviewing of players, several independent witnesses and the woman hired for the 2016 celebration.
New Zealand Rugby has concluded:
• Whilst the investigation indicates that the nature of the performance was legal and consensual, it was wholly inappropriate for professional rugby teams to engage in events of this nature and players should take collective responsibility for this; and,
• Chiefs club management should have worked more closely with players to ensure both end of year functions were managed appropriately
• New Zealand Rugby does not have grounds to pursue misconduct against individual
• Formal cautions have been issued to all Chiefs players.
Mr Tew said the decisions behind both post-season celebrations, were a black mark on rugby and on the Chiefs.
“While the investigation concludes that the balance of the evidence, based largely on independent witnesses, strongly supports a finding that the alleged sexual assault did not take place as reported in the media, we are far from satisfied that players should not bear some culpability for the harm done to the game, to the Chiefs brand, and to their families.
“The whole incident has been incredibly disturbing and it is clear that poor decision making on a number of fronts has led to these players and Chiefs’ management putting themselves in a position of vulnerability.
“The investigation was never about the women at the centre of these allegations. Our microscope was very much on the players, their conduct and that of the management structure behind them. We have high expectations of all our players and staff, that when they enter this environment, there are many benefits, but the job also comes with responsibilities,” Tew said.
“They did not meet those expectations and as a result, today we have issued formal cautions to all Chiefs players, with every player receiving a letter setting out our disappointment, and their responsibilities in a professional environment.
“We’ve made it abundantly clear to the players that their activity and decision making in these situations is totally unacceptable and repeat behaviour is likely to result in more serious sanctions,” Tew said.
“We will work with the Chiefs and New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) to look at the best way forward, in terms of education and regaining the trust and confidence of commercial partners and fans,” he said.
“There are clearly lessons from this and we will share these with all other teams. But for now the Chiefs have some work to do to regain the confidence of the public and we will support them as best we can to achieve that.”
In addition to the formal cautions issued to the players, the investigation also recommended:
a) NZR/Chiefs in consultation with the NZRPA should look into the circumstances in which end-of-season celebrations take place (not only in the Chiefs region but in all professional environments) and develop a range of protocols to ensure that such celebrations are conducted appropriately and risk to reputations of players, employers and the game are minimised;
b) the Chiefs (in conjunction with NZR) should undertake a review of the management of the issue.
New Zealand Rugby has already begun work on developing protocols around team/player celebrations that will apply to all professional rugby environments, and recommended for Provincial Unions. This will complement existing workstreams including the development of a respect and responsibility programme.
The players have today issued an apology to all those affected.
New Zealand Rugby Players Association Chief Executive Rob Nichol said they accepted the investigation’s findings and recommendations.
“The players recognise that collectively they made poor decisions to engage these women. They know they have not only let themselves down, but also their supporters, sponsors, and work colleagues at the Chiefs Club.
“The players are sorry and publicly apologise for putting the Chiefs and New Zealand Rugby in this position.
“The players also wish to apologise to the women. Ultimately it was the players’ decisions that instigated the whole series of events and regardless of the investigations findings we know that the attention and scrutiny received in these situations can be personally very challenging.
“We also recognise that despite the education and support provided to players they will at times make compromised decisions. We know it’s important to take responsibility when mistakes are made, and to learn from them. We accept the outcomes and formal caution in full, and will now focus on helping the Chiefs club to restore confidence,” he said.
In summary New Zealand Rugby has found that:
• No complaint was laid with police and police are not pursuing either incident
• The discrepancies between the reported accounts of both women, and those of the players and independent witnesses could not be reconciled in a number of key respects
• The allegations of sexual assault, were strongly denied by players, and were not substantiated by the witnesses’ who did not see players touch, throw anything or pour alcohol on any women at either celebration
• Nine independent witnesses to the performances were interviewed and gave statements that were considered genuine and credible
• Players organised the end-of-season celebrations including the entertainment
• Chiefs management were not involved in the celebrations or their planning and did not ask for details, but did advise players to be responsible
• At both functions, some players were intoxicated to varying degrees, and some – designated as minders for those drinking – were sober
Specifically in relation to the 2016 performance:
o Independent witnesses said some players were raucous during the performance with whistling, cheering and shouting, but they were seated or in a few cases, standing by their seated colleagues and not ‘crowding around” her. Nor did they see any players expose themselves.
o There was a dispute over an additional payment for a further performance for a member of the public
Specifically in relation to the 2015 performance:
o The allegations made publicly have been investigated and the members of the public who witnessed all her time and performance in the clubrooms indicate that the alleged inappropriate behaviour did not take place as reported by the woman and the media.