Haka row as rugby team brand New Zealand government ‘rednecks’

Leilani Perese - Rugby team brand New Zealand government 'rednecks' in altered haka
Leilani Perese said the altered haka was intended to send a strong message

The Wellington Hurricanes will apologise to New Zealand’s government after a haka performed by their women’s side labelled the coalition “redneck”, local media reported on Tuesday.

The team, known as the Poua, performed an altered haka using the phrase “karetao o te Kāwana kakiwhero”, or “puppets of this redneck government”, before their Super Rugby Aupiki season-opener against the Chiefs Manawa, Radio New Zealand reported.

Hurricanes Chief Executive Avan Lee said he was disappointed by the haka and had not been consulted by the players.

“Certainly disappointed. There was no discussion, no consultation and some of the words that were used, were interpreted to be very strong,” he told New Zealand media.

“The Hurricanes shouldn’t be making any political statement. If they do it needs to be agreed across the organisation because we have got players and staff who are not comfortable with what is being said.”

The Poua’s haka leader Leilani Perese had a different take and said she presented the haka to management at the last minute and they encouraged the team to go ahead with it.

“They were like, ‘Go for it. We back you 100 per cent,” she told TVNZ.

New Zealand rugby club
The altered haka referred to 'Toitū Te Tiriti', a political movement that has taken a stand against coalition government policies
New Zealand rugby club
The Wellington based side performed the haka in their Super Rugby Aupiki season opener against the Chiefs Manawa

New Zealand’s centre-right coalition government, which took office in October, has promised to undo policies of previous governments, particularly those promoting the official use of the Maori language.

The move is seen by many indigenous groups as undermining their rights and status and has sparked protests.

“I believe in what we’re saying, I stand by it,” said Perese.

“I believe that in rugby, we have a platform where people watch and listen. And why not use our platform to show our people we will never fold?

“To tell the government that we are stronger than ever, and we will never go down without a war?”

New Zealand’s sports minister Chris Bishop said he strongly disagreed with the claims raised in the Poua haka but said it was “free speech”.

“Obviously I disagree, New Zealanders will make their own judgements, as will Wellington fans of the Hurricanes,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“We’re not a government of white supremacy, that’s ridiculous.”