Peter Williams: Get that divisive cancel culture out of New Zealand

Peter Williams 16/08/2021

Opinion: Being offended by what someone says is a small price to pay in a free and democratic society. 

The beleaguered finances of New Zealand Rugby would have taken two hits over the weekend. One with the small crowd at Eden Park. The other is the decision made by Wellington businessman Troy Bowker to sell his shareholding in the Hurricanes after the extraordinary pile-on against him in the last week following his comments on Linkedin about Sir Ian Taylor’s post regarding the name of the country. Now Bowker is allowed his opinions. He expressed them in a robust way. 

From some of the comments I read, saying they were robust is an understatement. Are people allowed to be upset and offended by them? Absolutely yes. Do those who were upset and offended have any rights to shut Mr Bowker up? Absolutely not. They can criticise him and they can refuse to do business with him, but that’s about the extent of what the reaction should be. 

There is no point in trying to stop Troy Bowker saying these things, because one thing is for sure, these will not be the last statements he makes that offend people. Just remember, a basic right in this country is the right to speak your mind and say what you like with just one provision - you must not incite violence.

But in the end, it appears as if the pushback against Troy Bowker came at a time when he was looking at exiting his investment and shareholding in the Hurricanes. Just remember once again, that his post on Linkedin had nothing to do with rugby, but because a relatively minor on-line stoush on one of the smaller social media platforms was picked up by Stuff, a rugby connection was introduced by that organisation and all hell broke loose. Bowker maintains, and I’m sure this is right, that all current Super Rugby licenses expire at the end of this month. They were actually due to expire last year but the whole covid issue has delayed matters and August 31 is the latest D-Day. Bowker was preparing to sell his investment back to New Zealand Rugby anyway.

All the pile-on from the likes of TJ Perenara has done is just push up the price. I can only guess at the numbers but a 12.5 percent shareholding in the Hurricanes was probably worth somewhere between half a million and a million dollars. Quite a bit of well known Wellington money is in that 50 percent private shareholding of the Hurricanes - people like Paul Collins and Gareth Morgan and Robbie Morrison have all been or are shareholders of the club. If Troy Bowker is taking his money out in the next few weeks, then whoever is buying will be paying more today than they would have been before TJ made his feelings known.

I hear that New Zealand Rugby and the All Blacks are none too impressed with what Perenara has done. It means NZR has to spend thousands of extra dollars that the game can’t really afford at the moment. And of course lost in all this is Troy Bowker’s historical connection to influential politicians in the Labour Party. His funding of cabinet minister Stuart Nash back in the 2014 election is on the record. Nash says what happened last week is not the Troy Bowker he knew. Really, Stuart. I doubt if Troy Bowker is a different person now to what he was in 2014. There are hints also that some other very, very important people are hoping the money they once accepted from Troy Bowker will not be made too much of a fuss of. 

But I come back to my original point. Bowker’s comments had absolutely nothing to do with rugby and were about a pretty significant issue in this country - what should this nation be called? He doesn’t like Aotearoa. That’s his right. Others do. That is their right. But the best way to talk about this is for all sides to be respectful. Let’s drop the cancel culture. Let’s stop calling people  “racist scum.” Let’s stop the ad hominem attacks. Let’s stop asking what percentage of Maori or European people are. Let’s talk about it like adults. Let’s remember we can and will be offended and upset sometimes.  That is a small price to pay in a free and democratic society. 

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