Former All Blacks captain Buck Shelford and the iwi whose ancestor created Ka Mate have added their voices to a growing debate about what a partial sale of New Zealand Rugby will mean for the haka.
US investment firm Silver Lake could take a 15 per cent stake in NZ Rugby but Ngāti Toa leaders have told 1 NEWS they haven’t even been spoken to about the deal, despite the issues raised by players around the potential commercialisation of the haka.
Ngāti Toa's famous tupuna, Te Rauparaha, wrote Ka Mate in recognition of a time when his life hung in the balance but rangatira Taku Parai said his iwi now feeling the haka itself is in a precarious position.
“No one has come to us, no one has come to Ngāti Toa, no one has come to the descendants of the haka, particularly of the chief who created it,” Parai told 1 NEWS.
“Now we'd have thought we'd have had at least an invitation to come and sit and discuss the ins and outs of the deal but by and large talking to our people. It's off limits.
“At least have the decency or the respect to come and have a chat.”
New Zealand Rugby is in negotiations with technology investment company Silver Lake to sell a 15 per cent stake in its commercial operations for more than $400 million.
That means the haka, a central part of the All Blacks’ identity, is part of the equation, but Parai said you can’t put a price on culture.
“Through the words [of Ka Mate], through the mauri that it carries, through the strength that it carries - money can't buy that sort of spiritual connection.”
After decades of poor performances, Shelford elevated the status of the haka by simply leading a movement to perform it properly and he too questions what influence Silver Lake may have on it should the deal be signed.
“It's very new, and I think a lot of people are very sceptical on how a private company can come in and buy 10 to 15 per cent,” Shelford said.
“But how much do we actually lose with that 10 to 15 per cent, how much of that autonomy, to rugby?”
The professional player's union has opposed the sale - over concerns including that players are uncomfortable with the thought of another company profiting off cultural practices – but Massey University’s Dr Jeremy Hapeta said there could be ways to address that.
“I think some kind of acknowledgement that if they're gaining financially from the use of allowing Silver Lake's access to Ka Mate, then absolutely there should be something set aside for Ngāti Toa.”
NZ Rugby board's Māori representative Dr Farah Palmer told 1 NEWS they were working on protection mechanisms.
There had been a report on the issue and the intention was to take that report to Ngāti Toa and other Māori stakeholders, Palmer said.
1 NEWS understands the provincial unions largely agreed to the deal last month, with a firm proposal set to be presented at the annual general meeting later this month.