AUT study prompts new rugby role

08 Jul, 2020
NZW outcome Eroni Clarke Appointment
Saveatama Eroni Clark (front row, fifth from the left) and AUT Professor Lesley Ferkins (second row, far right) at the final Talanoa for Navigating Two Worlds research participants.

Former All Black Saveatama Eroni Clarke has been appointed as New Zealand Rugby's first Pasifika Engagement Manager following recommendations by AUT’s Sport Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ).

The appointment follows a study, by AUT sport management researchers in partnership with New Zealand Rugby and Auckland Rugby, addressing a disparity between numbers of Pacific rugby players and those in non-playing roles in Auckland rugby. This includes coaching, administration, refereeing, governance and leadership.

A collaborative action research project, Navigating Two Worlds (N2W), was set up in 2016 to initially understand the barriers to greater Pacific involvement off the field. It found a lack of understanding around Pacific culture and values in rugby and the clubs, as well as contrasting perspectives on leadership. It was identified that within the sport there is a dominant Western based culture and perspective of leadership. It was evident that with a deeper understanding of Pasifika culture, more diverse leadership practices could be developed and strengthened. Recognising this need to cultivate Pacific leadership in rugby, the project developed further into a four year collaborative action research process.

N2W established a Pacific Advisory Group, of which Eroni Clarke was a key member, to guide the process. This programme included leadership and cultural development workshops, as well as year long mentoring programme for Pacific peoples aspiring to become involved in rugby leadership, and a number of full group talanoas.

Over the course of the project, it has emerged that the catalyst to increased engagement and participation, is making clubs more welcoming to Pacific members and their families; encouraging, supporting and shoulder tapping Pacific people to come forward; and creating opportunities for both sides to connect and learn together through conversations, workshops and mentoring.

The N2W findings is resulting in positive change including the newly created Pasifika Engagement role and Clarke’s appointment. Speaking to Radio New Zealand, he has said he wants to continue to break down barriers between the national body and the Pacific community.

AUT’s Professor Lesley Ferkins says the study has the potential to reach other sport organisations throughout the country so they can better understand the different and diverse ethnicities involved in their communities, and how an appreciation for this might strengthen leadership approaches, particularly for future generations.

Although the action research project is officially coming to the end this year, a legacy book has been created and will be launched soon, in order to share and keep alive the stories and experiences of those involved in the project, and to highlight the key areas of growth needed for long term systemic change to take place in rugby.

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