Ross Karl: 'Sub-conscious bias' plaguing Polynesian players at Rugby World Cup

OPINION: On Monday's AM Show, I made a comment that the terrible penalty against Australia’s Samu Kerevi was "a little bit racist" and it became instant clickbait.

Of course, it was polarising.

It wasn't designed to be, it’s just how I see it. Let me explain.

I believe that Pacific players have long been the victims of sub-conscious bias - a subtle form of racism that even the most open-minded, well-intentioned, people sometimes suffer from, based on society’s stereotypes.

I don't believe that refs and judicial officers are out-and-out racists. I believe they are good people, with a very tough job to do.

But they look more closely at the actions of Polynesian players, even if they aren't totally conscious that they're doing it.

There's a pre-conceived notion in the rugby community that Pacific players are overly physical and are willing to cross the line into illegal play. That's simply not true.

Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players do excel at the physical aspects of rugby, but they are no more cynical than any other ethnicities.

Samu Kerevi is one of the best ball carriers in rugby. He gets over the advantage line almost every time.

He's also a clean player.

When his ball-carrying arm collided with Rhys Patchell, it was similar to other hit-ups every game that go unpunished.

It wasn't dirty or dangerous, and the ruling that his arm slid up and contacted Patchell above the shoulders is clutching at straws.

He was the victim of the stereotype that has plagued Polynesian and Melanesian players for years.

Patchell's tackle technique was poor. He was standing up straight and was risking a head clash that could have sent him flying.

If anything, his poor technique created the danger.

Rugby players are taught to start low and drive up into tackles, and Patchell's couldn't have been further from copybook.

There's that subconscious bias at play.

Distracted by the perceived wrong doing of the Polynesian player, they didn't really look at the other guy.

At least it was only a penalty - but it was a penalty that swung the momentum of the first half and left Australia too far behind to win.

There was a famous incident during the 2015 World Cup that beautifully illustrates my point.

Samoa's Alesana Tuilagi, one of the most powerful players of his generation, was suspended for five weeks for striking with a knee, while running into Japan's Harumichi Tatekawa.

The decision was atrocious. The use of the term "striking" was overly emotive.

The contact was unfortunate and hurt Tatekawa, but it's very hard to argue that Tuilagi tried to strike him with his knee.

He was actually just running into a player, who had poor tackling technique and went in head-first at the knee area.

Tuilagi was just bracing himself for contact, plus it's pretty hard to run without bending your knee. He was suspended and it was nonsense.

Now, many have argued that my next example of white players getting a better ride should be put down to inconsistency from refs and judiciaries, not racism

True, consistency is a problem with rugby rulings and that's the case no matter the colour of your skin.

But, when you look over a long period of time, patterns tend to emerge.

England's Piers Francis made a blatant high tackle on American Will Hooley last week, which went unnoticed on the field, despite being the opening tackle of the game.

He then went unpunished at the judiciary. History has shown that Polynesian players get suspended for that.

That's my point.

The sub-conscious bias has oppressed Pacific players for years, and it's time that was acknowledged and fixed.

Ross Karl is Newshub rugby editor

 

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