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New Zealand Rugby is appointing a Pasifika engagement manager, who will be tasked with giving the country's Pacific Island community more of a voice in how the sport is run.
The role is the first of its kind for the governing body and partly came out of the Respect and Responsibility Review in 2017, which highlighted issues around player welfare and participation numbers in the game.
Head of Respect and Inclusion at NZR, Karen Skinner, said a dedicated role focused on the Pasifika rugby community was a significant step.
"A lot of people have said we should have had this a long time ago and it has been a long time coming but we're really excited to see this role finally established...
"A big part of this job will be to make sure that our Pasifika community in rugby has a really strong voice in our strategic planning going forward and so that's why we really wanted to make sure it was this year as well."
NZR was looking for someone who had a deep understanding and commitment to rugby and the ability to engage with the Pasifika community and ensure their views were heard at the top table, Ms Skinner said.
"We have so many amazing Pasifika people that are involved in every part of rugby and this role will really be to connect with a lot of those people and make sure that their voice in New Zealand Rugby is really strong," she said.
"Sir Michael Jones has been a real advocate for the creation of this role and he's been on the interview panel and will be part of the appointment, and has obviously got huge knowledge, huge experience, to feed into how this role shapes out as well."
"This role will work across both grassroots or community rugby and in our high performance environments and really looking at what Pasifika people are telling us, both in those environments and the wider community, they think NZR needs to be doing," she said.
"This role will work with a whole lot of our partners: obviously Super Rugby clubs and provincial unions, the [NZ] Players Association, the Pasifika Players Association...and then their role will really be to bring that back and guiding NZR and giving us some advice on how we can be more responsive and more inclusive."
The Navigating Two Worlds research project, conducted in consultation with AUT University, detailed the barriers preventing more Pasifika players becoming involved in rugby leadership in New Zealand.
Skinner said the findings showed New Zealand Rugby could still do more to engage with the Pasifika community.
"What we've seen is when we focus on those who are currently in the rugby system and really equip them with more cultural competence and awareness and mentoring - and when we also empower Pasifika people - that we're really starting to get some results," she said.
"So I think, yes, absolutely there is more that we need to do and we're not as inclusive as we want to be and creating this role is one step in our journey."
"The Respect and Responsibility Review definitely challenges us to ensure that there are more Pasifika people in non-playing roles and the research that came out of Navigating Two Worlds has given us a lot of information about how we can do that better...
"I think the next step for us is to make sure that we are strategically thinking about how we can roll that our around the country," Skinner said.
"The Respect and Responsibility Review has also called out a lot about player welfare. We're obviously wanting to increase participation in the game and Pasifika are a big priority within that."
About 40 people have applied for the newly-established role, which is currently in the final interview stage, and NZR hopes to make an appointment in the next couple of weeks.
Skinner said the "majority of those [applicants have been] absolutely exceptional". While the successful candidate would initially be appointed to a 12 month term, she said there was a strong chance the contract would be extended.
"I absolutely think that it's going to be necessary for a role like this to continue and I think once we've seen what needs to be done or what the priorities are then we will be able to shape exactly what this role will look like," she said.
"We have a Māori Cultural Advisor role and their role is really to give us cultural advice because we have a Māori Rugby Board.
"That's a slightly different set-up so this is an engagement role because we don't have that Pasifika Board so really we want Pasifika people to be able to drive this and tell us what they think the shape should be in the following few years.".
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
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