THE DIGITAL MAGAZINE FOR AUT alumni & friends 2021Alumni 2021
Empowering Pasifika beyond the playing field

Pasifika’s contribution to New Zealand rugby is undisputed.

Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players are among our best, and the sport’s most generous volunteers. But despite their strong on-field involvement, only a small number of Pasifika players move into rugby leadership and governance roles. A three-year research project conducted by AUT’s Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ) set out to find out why and help instigate change.

Navigating Two Worlds, an action research study, kicked off in 2016 and saw the SPRINZ team work alongside Auckland and New Zealand Rugby, current and ex-players, their families and clubs, with the aim of cultivating leadership capability across the system.

“Pasifika participants commented that playing participation reflected an inclusive, collaborative team or village approach; however off-field leadership roles were not underpinned by that same shared approach.”

For AUT’s Sport Leadership and Management Department Head Gaye Bryham, the project highlighted a dominant, primarily Eurocentric system that operates off-field in New Zealand’s national sport. It also highlighted the courage of over 70 participants who shared their stories and learned about different leadership experiences, challenges and ways.

“New Zealand Rugby recognises the significant contribution the Pasifika community plays in rugby, from clubs through to professional level. In Auckland particularly, this contribution is largely in playing participation and is not similarly reflected in off-field contributions involving governance, management and refereeing,” says Gaye.

Researchers discovered that clubs wanted to better understand and embrace Pacific Island culture, and its collective, community approach, so a key goal of the study was to develop that awareness within current office holders, many of whom are New Zealand European.

“Pasifika participants commented that playing participation reflected an inclusive, collaborative team or village approach; however off-field leadership roles were not underpinned by that same shared approach.”

College Rifles Rugby Club Manager Keith Ratcliffe believes this lack of cultural understanding could be a significant barrier to Pasifika players pathway off the field.

“Nothing about our club reflected that over 50 percent of our members were Pacific or Māori. Members shouldn’t feel like they have to check their culture at the door,” says Keith.

Through mentoring programmes, talanoas (discussions), and the establishment of a Club Leadership Group and a Pacific Leadership Group, Navigating Two Worlds has helped merge cultures and ensure more accessible trajectories into leadership and governance for Pasifika players.

Says Navigating Two Worlds mentor, Pacific Advisory Group and Project Team member Tracy Atiga, “Through our talanoa and workshops, Navigating Two Worlds has brought about quite a bit of change specifically around people’s attitudes toward understanding that there are two different perspectives. I’ve seen that grow quite organically.”

A new Pasifika position has been created within New Zealand Rugby, clubs are placing more value on Pasifika leadership ways, and more people than ever before are connecting, networking and encouraging Pasifika players both on and off the grass.

Gaye and her fellow SPRINZ researchers couldn’t be more delighted and are excited by the potential their research has to be extrapolated to other sporting codes.

She adds, “Many other sports are in a similar situation, with significant Pasifika playing contributions, but this is not always reflected in off-field leadership presence. Other sports are interested in the learnings from Navigating Two World’s action research, as to how leadership ways and practices in our sport organisations and sector can be developed and strengthened with a greater appreciation of Pasifika culture.”


High-performance research that’s changing the playing field

AUT’s Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand (SPRINZ) is carving a global reputation, partnering with some of the world’s most innovative organisations to boost health and wellbeing, sporting development and human potential.

Ranked New Zealand’s top sports research institute, SPRINZ has worked with everyone from the LA Dodgers to NASA and has an unrivalled record for producing high impact research that enhances performance for the sport and recreation sector.

“We have leading-edge programmes of research that are driving change with partner organisations in, for example, strength and conditioning, sports technology, youth development, injury prevention, sport physiology and nutrition, sport leadership and governance, public health and physical activity,” says SPRINZ Director, and AUT Professor of Sport Leadership & Governance Lesley Ferkins.

“Our collective thinking brings a holistic and action-orientated approach to growing capability in partnership with sector organisations for the wellbeing of New Zealanders.”

Based at AUT Millennium, SPRINZ connects postgraduates with New Zealand and international sport agencies in order to work with athletes, coaches, clubs and schools to develop applied research in ground-breaking areas. Currently around 100 PhD and master’s students are actively engaged in projects including development of a wearable sensor that monitors bowling intensity and workload for cricketers, and wearable resistance (WR) exoskeletons designed to enhance athletic performance.

Social change with and through sport is also on the agenda for SPRINZ researchers. Projects are currently underway with Touch NZ, NZ Rugby, and Aktive Auckland in building positive sporting experiences for youth, and diversity and inclusion in sport leadership.


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