With the Rugby World Cup approaching, New Zealand’s national men’s and women’s rugby teams appear to be using Japan as a backdrop to produce a series on videos that help promote their brand.
On April 23, the All Blacks and Black Ferns launched a “diversity is strength” campaign with a stoic two-minute video that was filmed in front of a full stadium of rugby fans in Osaka.
After outlining the teams’ all-conquering exploits on the field, the video describes the next “enemy” as being “truly formidable.”
“It is discrimination,” the video says, “an enemy that cannot be fought alone and must be defeated together. It will take more than 15 (players on a team) — it will take thousands, millions.”
Starring flanker Jerome Kaino, lock Sam Whitelock and halfback Kendra Cocksedge, the video shows the men’s and women’s squads in dressing rooms in Osaka before running onto the field and standing side by side.
Placing their hands on their hearts, the players tug the fabric on their chests to show the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ flag, while similarly colored hues appear on jet trails above the stadium and on flags waved by supporters.
Meanwhile, Japanese supporters watching on large TV screens outside the stadium join a man in a wheelchair and people of all nationalities around the ground in placing their hands on their chests.
The video on the All Blacks’ Twitter feed has been retweeted 1,200 times and received 3,800 likes.
It follows a video released in March last year that joins a group of the All Blacks squad, including lock Brodie Retallick, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and fullback Damian McKenzie, as they stalk the streets of Shibuya and knock people off their feet in a variety of bone-crunching tackles — seemingly for no reason.
It later appears the athletes were actually saving these people’s lives — pushing a couple of office workers out of the path of falling scaffolding, preventing a high school girl from walking in front of a speeding truck and stopping a car from running over a family of ducks.
The video, titled “Tackle the risk,” was retweeted more than 21,000 times and received more than 32,000 likes.
Last week’s video comes in the wake of a controversial homophobic comment made by Wallabies star Israel Folau.
Responding to a question on an image posted on Instagram in early April, Folau said that God’s plan for gay people was “HELL.”
“Unless,” he added, “they repent of their sins and turn to God.”
The Australian fullback subsequently wrote a column for the Players Voice website, arguing he didn’t mean to offend anyone but was quoting from the Bible, specifically 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10.
That verse says that “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
“I believe the Bible is the truth and sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear,” Folau said.
All Black halfback T.J. Perenara criticized the comments in a series of tweets supporting “diverse” sexual orientations.
“Let it go on record that I am 100% against the comments that were made by Israel” he wrote. “It was not OK to say that. It’s not an attitude I want to see in the game I love. There is no justification for such harmful comments.
“To anyone, young Māori/Pasifika people especially, who may be struggling with their identity — please know that it is OK to be you. You are perfect as you are. Do not let these comments keep you from being yourself. Polynesia has been sexually diverse since forever.”
Perenara’s posts came a day after one-time All Black halfback Brad Weber also criticized Folau by saying: “Kinda sick of us players staying quiet on some of this stuff. I can’t stand that I have to play this game that I love with people, like Folau, who say what he’s saying.”
It appears the issue of inclusivity won’t be far from the All Blacks’ mind when they face off against the Australian fullback in the opening test of this year’s Rugby Championship in Sydney on Aug. 18.