R M Cullen
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Coaches and administrators are not always blind to a player's skin colour. This has become very obvious at the Warriors in 2016, with coach McFadden preferring weak white players to gifted brown ones, presumably with the support of CEO Jim Doyle.
After the first two games of 2016 racism was an obvious explanation why McFadden persisted with Robson in the halves at the expense of Tui Lolohea, and why Konrad Hurrell was in reserve grade. Before last night's game against Canberra, McFadden said that Allwood was chosen ahead of Hurrell on form. I don't think anyone believed him, including Allwood and the other players in the Warriors lineup. It is obvious by now that Wright is not the best available wing, but Wright is White and that does the trick with McFadden
Racism is a corrosive thing anywhere and a sports team is no exception. Everyone knows it is present, and everyone is affected by it. Allwood knows he does not have his place on merit. Konrad Hurrell is upfront about it - the coach is an idiot. He shouldn't be blamed for stating what many people believe. Racism unsettles everyone in the team. McFadden talks about a lack of trust in the team. Of course there is a lack of trust. The players know they do not have their places on merit. They have their places either because of their skin colour or because they have brown-nosed the coach.
Jim Doyle with his private school headmaster approach to man-management has embedded McFadden's racism. It is very clear within the Warriors camp now that the players, the brown ones anyway, are children. They are to be given a set of rules, and obedience to the rules is necessary before they will be considered for selection. It is a sick club culture, and behind it is a belief that the white way is the right way.
What are the implications of racism for elite athlete development? There are three key things. Racism runs both ways, it is not often missed by brown boys, and it is not seen by the perpetrators.
Brown boys are racist. There is no doubt about this, and it is a positive thing, unifying many rugby league teams. For some years I have run a sports academy, and it is fair to say that on the odd occasion when a white boy approaches us he finds it a lot harder to become part of the group than a brown boy from South Auckland would. In the end though skills and the ability to take a bit of cheek while responding in kind are all it takes. On the field the brown boys expect the white boy to miss tackles, and they often accept this when they would say something if the tackle had been missed by a brown boy. The expectation that white boys miss tackles often leads the brown boy to try and play two positions in defence. This racism is part of 'bro culture' and one of the effects of multiple strokes is that Graham Lowe has forgotten how important bro culture was in the Otahuhu teams that launched his coaching career.
Brown boys rarely miss racism directed at them. Most of the league boys I know have been questioned by the police for the South Auckland offence of being outside while brown. They have extensive experience of being treated differently because of their skin colour, and they know when it is happening again.
I have no doubt that McFadden genuinely believes he is blind to player skin colour and that Jim Doyle would be genuinely offended to be accused of enabling racism in the organisation he heads. However, there comes a time when the weight of evidence must tell.
Is Jeff Robson really a better half than Mason Lino? Is Matt Allwood really in better form than Konrad Hurrell? Do the club values reflect Polynesian or European values? Does Jim know the difference? Why is it acceptable for Jeff Robson to feign injury to avoid playing reserve grade?
So what is my advice to young elite athletes who perceive that their career is blocked by a racist coach or club? Suck it up, lad. That's the way the world is, and you aren't going to change it. Make a joke of it. I would love it if Konrad turned up to the next team meeting with his face painted white. Would Jim get the point, or would it be a reason to invoke further disciplinary action? What's the chance of a reporter asking him?