Wellington: An apology from South Africa`s sports minister to Maori players excluded from All Blacks teams during the apartheid era has prompted the New Zealand Rugby Union to issue their own apology, months after it was first mooted.
"Today, on behalf of the New Zealand Rugby Union, we wish to say sorry first and foremost to those Maori players who were not considered for selection for teams to tour South Africa or to play South Africa," NZRU acting chairman Mike Eagle and CEO Steve Tew said in a joint statement on Friday.
"We apologise to the families of those players and to the wider Maori community who were affected directly or indirectly by the decisions taken to not include Maori players for those teams and tours."
"It was a period in which the respect of New Zealand Maori rugby was not upheld and that is deeply regretted."
"We also wish to take the opportunity to apologise to New Zealand as a whole for the division that rugby`s contact with South Africa caused across the country over many years."
South Africa sports minister Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile apologised to Maori players left out of tours to the country in 1928, 1949 and 1960 in an open letter published in a New Zealand newspaper at the weekend.
The letter followed growing calls from Maori groups demanding an apology from the NZRU as the country celebrates the centenary year of the first official Maori rugby side.
Stofile`s apology was also echoed on Thursday by a statement from the South Africa Rugby Union (SARU).
SARU president Oregan Hoskins said the debate in New Zealand had prompted discussions in South Africa.
"A number of Maori rugby players became innocent victims of the racist ideology of our former government, a policy that oppressed the daily lives of all black South Africans," Hoskins said in a statement posted on the union`s website.
"Those policies also denied thousands of talented black sportsmen and women the opportunity to compete for selection for South Africa`s national sports teams."
"As the current guardians of the game of rugby union it is therefore appropriate that we take this opportunity to apologise to those Maori players who may have been excluded from selection and to the offence this may have caused to the Maori community."
The NZRU said they had first considered the issue last year, ahead of the anniversary, but had been advised against issuing an apology by the New Zealand Maori Rugby Board.
"The NZMRB`s advice was that an apology might have the effect of unfairly condemning past Maori administrators and that it was more appropriate to focus on the present and the celebration of the New Zealand Maori centenary year."
"However, we acknowledge the steps taken by the South African Rugby Union and by the South African Minister for Sport and Recreation in response to these issues."
Former All Black and Maori player Bill Bush welcomed the apology but questioned its timing.
"I attended the ... launching of the celebrations of 100 years of Maori rugby a couple of months ago along with a lot of other Maori rugby players," he told Radio New Zealand.
"All the politicians were there, the hierarchy from the NZRU were making the announcement."
"It`s a shame that they didn`t do it then."