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NZ PM slams rugby racism claim

NZ PM slams rugby racism claim

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has described as "offensive and incorrect" claims by former All Blacks captain Andy Haden that the Canterbury Crusaders' Super 14 rugby team has a racist recruitment policy.
Haden's position as an official ambassador for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is under review after his claim on a television sports show Wednesday that the Crusaders _ seven-time Super rugby champions _ employ only three nonwhite players at any time.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew, who is a former Crusaders chief executive, and the franchise's current chief executive Hamish Riach have responded angrily to Haden's comments, describing them as insulting and untrue.
Key said Friday that New Zealand's minister of sport Murray McCully, who had appointed Haden one of six official Rugby World Cup ambassadors, would be meeting the former All Black over the weekend.
"I'm sure they will be having a discussion and we will see where that leads," Key said. "My view on that is that the comments are not only factually incorrect, they are also offensive."
Haden showed no signs Friday of withdrawing his allegation, repeating his claim in a lengthy radio interview.
In his original comments Wednesday, Haden said Canterbury's racial recruitment policy was "enshrined" in the franchise's manual.
"Once they've recruited three, that's it. That's their ceiling. It's enshrined in their articles, and they've stuck by that. And they know that that's the case. And it's worked."
Haden backed away slightly from that claim Friday, admitting the alleged limit on nonwhite players was not "set in stone."
"That's wrong, but the principle remains and this is an issue for New Zealand rugby," Haden told Radio New Zealand.
Haden, who is white, said the policy was most obvious in the recruitment of players for the franchise's academy at which young players were groomed for eventual Super 14 selection.
"A past All Black friend of mine was rung by a Canterbury coach and asked about a player and at the time he said to him 'we can only have two or three (players of Pacific Island extraction) in our franchise and we want to integrate them slowly'," Haden said.
Haden played 117 games, including 41 tests, for the All Blacks and was described by the sports minister recently as one of New Zealand's greatest players. Haden owns and runs a successful celebrity management company whose clients include supermodel and actress Rachel Hunter.