South Africa did it first. They shuffled gingerly up to the microphone a week ago and said "sorry". That morning the NZRU released a press release saying to the effect of "no comment". Then today, this morning in fact, the NZRU did what it probably should've done a while ago. They apologised.
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.
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.
This is of course the new NZRU. The NZRU of the infamous Springbok tour would not have issued this statement at all. Personally I like that they apologised to the country as well.
But why not apologise years ago? Or even at the start of the season, this being the 100 year celebration of Māori rugby. The NZRU oddly shifts blame here to the NZ Māori Rugby Board by saying that the NZMRB thought that the previous Māori rugby administrators might be blamed.
We recognise the very difficult situation that our predecessors were faced with, including those members of the NZMRB, the NZRU Council and administration and, indeed selectors, coaches and players, during that time.
We also acknowledge that throughout the apartheid era some of the decisions were taken with good intentions, which included protecting Maori players from insult and vilification. We acknowledge the complexities of the issues that they faced and today’s apology is not intended to be a criticism of those involved at that time.
But this is an apology, someone has to be at fault. A real apology doesn't say "Sorry, but it wasn't really our fault" and it definitely doesn't say "Yeah we would've apologised earlier, but we decided to try and forget it because it might make some people look bad". Any apology is going to make you look bad, because you are apologising for something. The redeeming apology is definitely in style. The apology that makes you look good for saying sorry.
It should be pointed out that South Africa is not playing the NZ Māori this year. That honour goes to Ireland, England and the NZ Barbarians. And while that is pretty cool, South Africa could've sent a rep squad while they were here for the Tri-Nations at least. Because a real apology has some payback in it too.
Speaking of the centenary, on Maori TV there is a wonderful documentary, Beneath the Māori Moon. I recommend catching it if you can.