Rugby union has responsibilities and eager critics

EDITORIAL

Is the New Zealand Rugby Union being unfairly treated over the Losi Filipo incident, and to what degree should an employer be liable for the actions of an employee away from their normal working environment?

Nobody is excusing the actions of the Wellington Lions player a year ago when he took part in a sustained assault on two men and two women that left one with permanent injuries. The decision of a judge not to enter a conviction against Filipo because that might affect his rugby career caused understandable outrage and has been appealed.

But as the initial furore has cooled there is a growing feeling that the union has been unfairly treated, and that a section of the community that is inherently hostile to rugby has jumped on a bandwagon and used this incident as a stick to beat the union with.

In the first instance it would have been unjust of the union to act against Filipo while his case was before the court. That would be a breach of natural justice.

While the union is Filipo’s ultimate employer, his actions did not occur on the rugby field or have any relevance to the game apart from his occupation. Every day in the courts employees of private companies appear and no one suggests that their employer should be punished.

As against that there is a duty of care for both the union and the game to mentor young men who suddenly find themselves the centre of public attention.

Filipo is still extremely young — he was 17 at the time of the assault, an age that would see him brought before a youth court in most other countries — and despite his despicable behaviour, he is entitled to the same rehabilitation processes as any offender of his age and the game as a whole definitely has a part to play in that.

It has been a bad period for rugby with this incident following the poor decision of a group of Chiefs players to hire a stripper for their end-of-season “Mad Monday” party. Working to remove that image of a boozy, sexist culture is something the NZRU definitely does have to take responsibility for.

Is the New Zealand Rugby Union being unfairly treated over the Losi Filipo incident, and to what degree should an employer be liable for the actions of an employee away from their normal working environment?

Nobody is excusing the actions of the Wellington Lions player a year ago when he took part in a sustained assault on two men and two women that left one with permanent injuries. The decision of a judge not to enter a conviction against Filipo because that might affect his rugby career caused understandable outrage and has been appealed.

But as the initial furore has cooled there is a growing feeling that the union has been unfairly treated, and that a section of the community that is inherently hostile to rugby has jumped on a bandwagon and used this incident as a stick to beat the union with.

In the first instance it would have been unjust of the union to act against Filipo while his case was before the court. That would be a breach of natural justice.

While the union is Filipo’s ultimate employer, his actions did not occur on the rugby field or have any relevance to the game apart from his occupation. Every day in the courts employees of private companies appear and no one suggests that their employer should be punished.

As against that there is a duty of care for both the union and the game to mentor young men who suddenly find themselves the centre of public attention.

Filipo is still extremely young — he was 17 at the time of the assault, an age that would see him brought before a youth court in most other countries — and despite his despicable behaviour, he is entitled to the same rehabilitation processes as any offender of his age and the game as a whole definitely has a part to play in that.

It has been a bad period for rugby with this incident following the poor decision of a group of Chiefs players to hire a stripper for their end-of-season “Mad Monday” party. Working to remove that image of a boozy, sexist culture is something the NZRU definitely does have to take responsibility for.

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