Players refuse to wear competition pin after sponsor ignores women’s rugby teams
An event to launch a new rugby sponsor into schools was called “insulting and degrading” after the speech praised the men in attendance but ignored the players there.
Canterbury Schools principals, coaches and players were invited to the private reception at Miles Toyota in central Christchurch on Monday evening, but general manager Mark Mills accidentally “left out” girls’ schools in his welcome speech .
The company has supported the Canterbury Rugby Football Union men’s and women’s teams since 2018 and Monday’s event was held to celebrate its new sponsorship of the First XV Cup (boys) and the elite high school (girls) Championship (girls) of Canterbury.
Mills told the audience he had attended a few boys’ games and wished the men’s teams luck for the season, but closed his speech without acknowledging women’s rugby or the players in the audience.
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He later apologized, he said.
Christchurch Girls’ High School (CGHS) principal Christine O’Neill was among those in attendance.
She said it “is beyond belief” that the players were overlooked while in the room.
“The male CEO of Miles Toyota gave a welcome speech to the boys, discussing the boys’ competition and wishing the boys good luck. There was no mention of the girls whatsoever.
School staff were “furious,” she said.
One of them was to finalize the purchase of a new car from Miles Toyota on Tuesday afternoon, but “broke down and canceled”.
“I felt for every girl in there,” O’Neill said.
“It was insulting and diminishing, despite the fact that women’s rugby is dynamic, competitive and growing.”
The players received a Miles Toyota Cup competition pin, but the Girls’ High team would not be wearing theirs, she said.
Girls’ High had one of New Zealand’s most successful women’s rugby teams. The team reached the national final in 2019 and have dominated Canterbury competition in recent years.
Captain Mia Cochrane, who was in attendance at Monday’s event, said the company should issue a formal apology.
“He didn’t really recognize women at all, even the way he stood was boy-centered,” she said.
“It was a little frustrating not to feel valued and on an equal footing.”
The 17-year-old played the top five and was hoping to be selected for the Black Ferns one day.
“In 2019, we were the second best girls’ rugby school in New Zealand. None of the other boys’ schools that were in attendance last night were at the national championships.
“We certainly put in so much effort and hard work, so it would be nice to be recognized in the same way. “
Mills, from Tauranga, said the failure to recognize the girls was “a nervous omission”, which he regretted.
“I mentioned that I had been to a few [boys’] games, and I really enjoyed it, because I was not from Christchurch.
He said he apologized right away saying “sorry guys, this is my bad”. But he couldn’t speak directly to O’Neill because she was gone.
“I think she got really mad about it. She didn’t even give me the chance to talk to her.
One of the main factors when the company renegotiated the contract with the Canterbury Rugby Football Union was to continue to sponsor women’s rugby, including the Farah Palmer Cup, he said.
About 500 high school students would compete in the two Miles Toyota competitions, with 14 boys ‘teams and nine girls’ teams.
Canterbury Rugby Union General manager Tony Smail said the speeches were “relatively quick” and Mills’ lack of recognition of the players was a “misstep” and not malicious intent.
“I spoke and announced that it was really great for Miles Toyota to be a part of that and that it was the Championship and the Cup, so both boys and girls competitions, and I recognized them both, ”he said.
“Mark is new to town and hasn’t attended a girls’ game yet. The boys have been running for about six or seven weeks and the girls have only just started.
“Mark admitted at the end that he had missed a trick there.”