Most influential woman in rugby seeks change

By Carmen Parahi
  • Wellington

Dr Farah Palmer, the first female chair of the New Zealand Māori Rugby board, is already calling for change.

“We want to see if we’re going in the direction that we’ve always intended to or do we need to change some things. So, I think it’s time for a review.”

Dr Palmer is also the first woman in 124 years to be appointed to the New Zealand Rugby board after she was voted in by provincial members. The combined NZR rep and Māori Rugby chair roles make her arguably the most influential female in world rugby history.

She led the Black Ferns to three successive world cup titles between 1998-2006 and was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2014.

“I’m there to push the whole Māori kaupapa and also women’s rugby, to make sure they don’t forget about the 50% of the population that contributes to rugby on and off the field. So, those are my two passions.”

She admitted in an interview with Māori Television’s Kawe Kōrero programme, the NZR board is reviewing its constitution. “So I know from the board meeting yesterday they are actually looking at the constitution of the New Zealand Rugby board. I think we should do the same for the Māori Rugby board.”

Dr Palmer took over the leadership role from Wayne Peters, who retired from being the Māori Rugby board chair and Māori rep on the NZR board earlier this week.

“Wayne was efficient, that’s what he was known for. But he also had a good way of making sure everybody had their voice around the table heard. He was quick witted but he was able to engage with everybody and I’ve taken that onboard. We will miss him and we wish him all the best.”

Dr Palmer is a senior lecturer at Massey University's School of Management and a director in the university's Māori business and leadership centre. In 2007, she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to women's rugby and sport.

“I also feel I bring a bit of a critical, analytical mind and I’ll ask some difficult questions if I feel they need to be asked.”

Questions have been asked of NZR recently over claims they lacked diversity when dealing with issues surrounding the behaviour of professional rugby players off the field.

Dr Palmer received overwhelming support from the provincial unions but also from Māori and female quarters. She admitted to feeling the pressure to best represent those who’ve supported her.

“We all don’t just necessarily represent ourselves, we represent our whānau, our hapu our iwi. I had to think for myself before I put my name in the hat whether I was ready for that responsibility. And I feel that I owe it. It’s a service, it’s giving back to the communities that really helped me in my rugby career. I think I’m at the right time in my life where I’m ready to step up.”

“I think our huge growth area is in women’s rugby and also Māori rugby. I think we can improve our numbers there too.”