Chiefs cleared in sex abuse case
NEWS: An investigation into allegations a stripper was sexually assaulted at a Chiefs function has cleared the players.
However, their conduct remains a "black mark", New Zealand Rugby said Wednesday.
NZ Rugby revealed the findings of its investigation into allegations made following the Chiefs Super Rugby team's post-2015 and 2016 season celebrations.
NZR Chief Executive Steve Tew welcomed the findings, but said the fact that the Super Rugby players thought it was appropriate to hire a stripper in the first place had left his organisation "deeply embarrassed".
A stripper, known as Scarlette, alleged last month that she was abused at Chiefs' end-of-season party, which was held in a rural pub in the North Island.
She alleged players aggressively crowded around her, touching her inappropriately and pouring alcohol on her, before refusing to pay her fully.
Tew said the claims were "alarming" and an NZR lawyer launched a comprehensive investigation, including interviewing nine independent witnesses who were at the venue but not part of the Chiefs' group.
He said no witnesses confirmed the woman's story, although they reported the players were raucous and noisy during the performance.
"Our investigation has found that the allegations made publicly have not been substantiated by witness accounts," he said, also noting that police had not received any complaints and were taking no action.
"As such, we will not take action against any individual players."
Instead, he said the entire Chiefs playing group, including individuals who were not there on the night, had been issued with a collective caution.
"We are far from satisfied. This leaves a black mark on rugby and on the Chiefs in particular," Tew said.
"We are deeply embarrassed to be dealing with this matter and we've made our views clear to the Chiefs and to the players."
Wild end-of-season partying by players has become known as "Mad Monday" and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said last month that the practice should be stopped.
Tew said such events should be strictly supervised, rather than banned outright, arguing: "If we drive it underground, we're likely to get worse behaviour."
He said hiring strippers for player parties was highly inappropriate and would never be condoned.
The Chiefs issued an apology on behalf of the players and Chief Executive Andrew Flexman confirmed two sponsors had withdrawn their support over the scandal.
The stripper Scarlette, whose identity has not been publicly released, questioned the findings.
"I am disappointed but not surprised at the outcome of the NZR's internal investigation," she said in a statement to commercial radio.
Tew said the 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," Tew said.
"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.
"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 added.
"We will work with the Chiefs and New Zealand Rugby Players Association to look at the best way forward, in terms of education and to regain the trust and confidence of commercial partners and fans.
"There are clear 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 also 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," Nichol said.
"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 investigation's 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 added.
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:
* 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.
* 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:
* 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.