Chiefs' Mad Monday investigation: A rucking farce

The NZRU's investigation is at best meaningless and at worst a cynical circle of lies and spin that leaves everyone involved with a stain on their reputation.

Here's the thing: What exactly did happen during that Mad Monday Chiefs event at Ōkoroire Hot Pools, near Matamata, on August 1? Despite the Rugby Union's "investigation" into events we are none the wiser and yet, amidst a flurry of clichés about "key learnings" and "unwise" and "inappropriate" behaviour, we are supposed to drop our unanswered questions and move on.

Well, no. Let's instead label this "investigation" as what it is -  a kick for touch for which the leaders of New Zealand rugby should feel ashamed.

The claims by a woman known only as Scarlette have been well-rehearsed. When she appeared to strip for the Chiefs' end of season blow-out, she was harassed, groped and had gravel thrown at her. She said she stopped her act to tell them to take their hands off her and, to add to the bad-feeling, that they failed to pay her properly when the offensive ordeal was finally over. Her claim that they expected her to "be a whore" suggests the tone of their behaviour.

But when the NZRU spoke yesterday they said independent witnesses failed to corroborate those claims. They did not claim Scarlette was lying, oh no. They simply said her version of events could not be substantiated. But they did not reveal what the witnesses say did happen and precisely which parts of Scarlette's story were challenged. They left more questions than answers.

Despite the Chiefs saying the goal of the investigation was to get to the bottom of what happened, NZRU CEL Steve Tew revealed the farcical nature of the investigation when he snapped at one reporter yesterday, "I'm not going to second guess what happened".

Clearly then, if the boss of NZ Rugby is even now only in a position to second guess, the investigation failed. Indeed, having seen some pretty stacked investigations in my time, this one must rank up there with the most pointless and unsuccessful.

Because without a clear picture of precisely what happened, everything that comes after is meaningless at least and cynical at worst. When you hear All Blacks coach Steve Hansen say today, "It's good that it's cleared up", you're left with the impression that's all anyone in authority in the New Zealand rugby scene wanted.

Without an understanding of events, just what are the players apologising for? What have they been punished for? What exactly was "inappropriate" about what happened? We have no idea.

Without an understanding of events, the reputation of everyone involved has been impugned and no-one has been absolved. We're left with the impression the players may have groped and abused Scarlette and may also have short-changed her. But we're also left with the impression that she may have exaggerated, even lied.

So let's break this down:

If the Rugby Union or Chiefs genuinely doubt Scarlette's versions of events, then they have punished the players unfairly and left them with a stain on their character. As an employer, that's unacceptable.

If she is telling the truth, however, the powers-that-be have just let them get away with a cover-up where a bunch of mates have all had each others' back. And rugby has reinforced its image as a bastion of macho bullshit.

As for the New Zealand Rugby Players Association, either it has lets its members be punished and ridiculed unjustly or it has failed to hold its members to a high enough standard. The players, it says, apologise to Scarlette. They just haven't said what for. And that makes a mockery out of any apology.

Head Coach Dave Rennie? Well he ties himself in knots saying the players have disappointed him, but they're still "the best group of men I have ever worked with". If Scarlette is telling the truth that makes him a terrible judge of character, so we can only presume he doesn't believe her. Which means he's willingly let his players be hung out to dry for something he doesn't think warrants the censure.

Even the lawyer - the NZRU's in-house counsel - who led the investigation is left looking the fool. First, he agreed to lead an investigation that lacked independence. Second, he failed to get to the bottom of events. Third, according to Tew's interview with Susie Fergusson on RNZ this morning he was then asked to deliver the apology to Scarlette for we know not quite what. He was judge, jury and apologiser, a mix of roles any decent lawyer should find, well, inappropriate.

So whatever the truth of what happened at those hot springs, lies have been allowed to stand and reputations have been damaged. And for the NZRU, somehow that amounts to closure.

That, dear readers, is a farce.

So what lessons have been learnt? Certainly not the ones that matter.

Tew said at his press conference yesterday that he was "far from satisfied" that a stripper was hired and that the party happened in a public place. The Chiefs, for their part say they've learnt players shouldn't be left to organise their own dos.

And those, surely, are the least important lessons. Scarlette presumably wants to be hired as a stripper, so the first lesson only makes matter worse for her. The second lesson suggest that rugby teams should just be careful to do their groping out of the public eye. And the third is simply a question of business protocol.

All of them are about covering the arses of the rugby fraternity. None of them are about the core of this issue - the way players behave and their attitude towards women and the fact that, in this particular case, a woman may have been abused by a team of professional rugby players who supposedly represent their region.

But then that lesson assumes that Scarlette is telling the truth, and we don't know that do we? Which brings us full circle. Nothing meaningful can be learnt, because we still don't know what happened. All we have is platitudes and spin.

Rugby sure ain't the winner on this day and the NZRU has to start over.