On Scott Kuggeleign and New Zealand Cricket

A little over a month ago, I stumbled on a Stuff column by a journalist/columnist with whom I don’t recall ever agreeing about anything much.  Until now.   Her column on New Zealand cricketer Scott Kuggeleign, doesn’t express everything I’ve been thinking about that issue, but what is in her column I agree with almost every word of.

Local readers will be aware that, before he was ever selected for New Zealand, Kuggeleign was charged with rape.  He was acquitted, after two trials.  The criminal standard is, rightly, a high one: beyond reasonable doubt.  But this wasn’t one of those cases where there was any doubt as to who was involved in the incident.  The acquittal seemed to turn wholly on whether or not Kuggeleign’s actions crossed that criminal threshold.   But here is what he did have to say, presumably uncontested since they are his own words

She said she said no dozens of times, and he pulled down her underwear regardless. He denied this. “I tried [having sex] twice, like she might have said ‘no, no’ a few times but it wasn’t dozens of times.”

His texted apology the next day, later read out in court, read:  “I heard you felt you couldn’t say no and were pressured into things. It’s pretty chilling to hear and think of myself in that kind of light, but looking back I was pretty persistent. I’m so so sorry and it has made me think about a few things. I hope you are OK and I’m sorry for the harm mentally I have caused you.”

Pretty sickening stuff (and not the sort of content I’d expect to often use on a Christian blog).

Kuggeleign was acquitted.  I don’t have any particular argument with that decision: I wasn’t there to hear all the evidence.  But criminal standards can’t be –  and never have been –  the only ones that matter.    Criminal standards determine whether one goes to prison (or suffers other state penalties) but decent societies can –  and should –  expect better “it wasn’t bad enough to get sent to prison”.   It is what blackballing or shunning represented in the days gone by (it is what the sort of church discipline described in Matthew 18 represented).  Decent people choose not to associate with someone who has (a) crossed society’s boundaries, and (b) not made recompense or, by their repentance, sought restoration and reconciliation.  That is for the good of the society, buttressing its standards, and for the one who has crossed the boundary. In our culture, it was a call to repentance, to a different path.

And yet, Kuggeleign –  having openly acknowledged treating a woman in a pretty awful way –  pops up in one of our national cricket teams as if nothing as has happened.   From Duff’s column

The Northern Districts Cricket Association, the province Kuggeleijn played for, released a meaningless statement saying they respected the decision.

“This has been a terribly difficult situation for all concerned,” chief executive Peter Roach said. “Northern Districts is an organisation which embraces inclusivity and promotes respect towards women. As such, the charges against Scott were a grave concern.”

Were they, really?

New Zealand Cricket made no statement.

The Players Association was silent.

A month later, Kuggeleijn was called up into the Black Caps ODI squad and played two games in May 2017.

Less than two years later, he’s appeared for the Twenty20 team. He has, by all accounts, a stellar career ahead of him.

It is shameful.   Not a word from New Zealand Cricket’s sponsors either –  big names like the ANZ (which seems to pride itself on support of any and all woke causes), Ford, Accor, and so on.  And, of course, not from the sports journalists and broadcasters.

Duff highlights a contrast with how another, apparently similar, case was handled

In Ireland in March last year, rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were both found not guilty of rape. But, in the aftermath of the highly-publicised trial, they were both fired by the Irish Rugby Football Union, which cited its “responsibility and commitment to the core values of the game: respect, inclusivity and integrity”.

Decency in fact.

Duff ends this way

The whole country has been witness to Kuggeleijn’s awful behaviour, to the distress of the woman at trial.

Minimising it, pretending that it never happened, expecting us to clap like happy seals when he hits another ball, just contributes towards a culture in which sexual violence is completely acceptable – just as long as you’re not convicted, right?

It is a national embarrassment.

Well, it should be. And yet the silence – notably from the commercially-attuned sponsors – suggests otherwise. Shamefully.

I’ve been a cricket fan for a long time. But the indifference of New Zealand Cricket leaves me sickened. I won’t watch games in which Scott Kuggeleign plays.  Period.  It is a pretty small statement at present – he’s only in 20/20 teams and it isn’t my favourite form of the game.  But unless he, his employers and their sponsors address this in a serious and contrite way, I intend to carry it through to other forms of the game if he is selected in national ODI or test teams.  One man’s quiet boycott won’t greatly bother New Zealand Cricket.     But what if it were dozens of people, or hundreds, thousands?  What if serious politicians spoke up, or church leaders, saying they too would turn their back unless and until New Zealand Cricket took the situation seriously?  I’m not a fan of the term “social licence”, but does New Zealand Cricket really want to be known as the body that regards just any behaviour as fine so long as it doesn’t earn a conviction?  That really would be a sad state of affairs.   One in which decent people might discourage their kids from following or playing the game.

Two final thoughts.  I had a quick look at Michelle Duff’s Twitter feed, and was horrified at some of the reactions she describes getting to her column.  Agree or disagree with her, there can be no excuse for any of that.  People sinking to the Kuggeleign standard.

And there is the question of what are the boundaries (more generally).  When does behaviour that doesn’t get a criminal conviction warrant this sort of response?  It is, after all, pretty fundamental to Christian faith and teaching that all of us sin –  you, me, all of us –  and are in constant need of God’s mercy and grace.  Equally fundamental is the scope for repentance, renewal and restoration, and to me that is –  or should be –  the test.

But whose standards, whose values, whose morality?  It is only a few months since many –  including the sponsors –  were baying for the blood (well, the de-selection and casting into outer darkness) of Australian rugby player Israel Folau.  Folau took no action against anyone, but he did state openly a pretty basic proposition of Christian teaching: sin (in this case homosexual sin) deserves Hell  (I defended Folau and lauded his courage here).  That particular storm blew over and Folau escaped largely intact.  But would a lesser player, one just starting out, have been as fortunate?

Societies need standards –  not just need them, but all societies have them. Those tacit understandings – not always written down –  hold societies together, and enable them to flourish.   Religion typically plays a key part in articulating and encapsulating those shared standards, buttressed by the transcendent source.  Historically, there has been typically one religion per community (even in multi-religious polities, society was organised by religious grouping).   What we recognise as typical organised religion has more or less collapsed in New Zealand –  and similar countries – and even where it hasn’t it has retreated to the margins of private life.   But nature abhors a vacuum and Christianity  –  and the sexual restraint and virtue it taught – isn’t replaced by nothing. but by the new gospel of intolerant inclusiveness  (“tolerate everything or else”).    There is still some limited overlap in a case like Kuggeleign’s –  not that you’d know it from the church leaders flocking to call out New Zealand cricket (or back Duff) – but that isn’t the norm.

Personally, I still recall the days when cricket test matches weren’t played on Sundays, honouring the commandment that six days shalt thou labour; the seventh being specially God’s.     That’s gone, making the choice to participate in top-level cricket at all a hard one for a serious follower of Christ.  But my point here isn’t primarily that things should be again as they were in the 1960s –  when Bruce Murray and Vic Pollard could be top-level New Zealand cricketers and keep Sunday for God –  but that whatever boundaries we enforce will reflect back to us what society’s values and taboos really are.  In a diverse society in transition (to where?) those taboos will be contested.  If it is that something like “anything goes”, then anyone who contests that or seeks to live and speak differently will run into problems.

Sadly, the standard these days too often seems to be that if you are talented enough and not convicted criminally, well then anything goes. (Not always –  in Australia top levels players were suspended for a year for tampering with a ball; in New Zealand we have Kuggeleign.)  I think it is a disgrace.  So does Michelle Duff.  But not, it appears, our fellow citizens en masse, let alone those holding high office in the land.

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