Silence is not an option

Scott Kuggeleijn. Photo: Getty Images
Scott Kuggeleijn. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand Cricket has dug itself a Scott Kuggeleijn-sized hole, and it is only getting deeper.

It is confusing and disappointing that at a time when the organisation running our national summer game appears to have many ducks in a row — the Black Caps are performing well, women’s cricket is finally getting some of the attention it deserves, vigorous programmes are being introduced to keep junior players engaged in the sport — it is playing and missing over this issue.

The presence of Kuggeleijn in the Black Caps is particularly problematic at a time when cricket, like other traditionally male-dominated sports, is pushing hard to be embraced by women, both economically and emotionally.

How are women expected to throw their full weight behind the New Zealand men’s cricket team when it fields a player whose questionable attitude towards sexual consent was laid bare across two rape trials?

Kuggeleijn has been convicted of no crime, and that has been freely acknowledged. One jury could not find a verdict, and a second — made up of six men and six women — found him not guilty of raping a woman in Hamilton in 2015.

In New Zealand Cricket’s defence, it has a duty of care to this young man. If it is willing to select him in the national side, it has to be prepared to look after him while the criticism rains down.

But exoneration in a courtroom, and the backing of a national sports organisation, do not mean it is time to declare this innings closed.

Kuggeleijn was found not guilty of the criminal charge of rape yet the lingering memory of that case will be of the clear themes of victim blaming and young women being pressured for sex.

"Were you saying no but not meaning no?".

That was Kuggeleijn’s lawyer as he questioned the alleged victim.

A witness testimony of the cricketer saying he had been "trying for a while and had finally cracked it" spoke to a worrying approach to sex, and a lack of understanding of consent. No does not mean maybe. No means no.

The #MeToo movement is more than just a social media trend. It’s about drawing attention to women being subjected to sexual harassment or violence, in a workplace or a flat, by a random man or a role model.

A role model? Yes. Like it or not, the elevation of an athlete to a national sports team instantly gives him or her that status. National teams and organisations trade on that connection to their fans — especially the younger ones — so they cannot complain when questions are asked over a role model letting the side down.

As for New Zealand Cricket, it desperately needs to clamber out from underneath this cone of silence and do a much better job of addressing the Kuggeleijn situation. Its heavy-handed removal of a "No means no" banner at a recent international was not a good start.

Some say there is nothing to gain from getting the player to speak publicly. Critics would argue it is mere PR spin and comes too late — and the same critics are questioning why Kuggeleijn and his bosses have said so little.

But this situation is crying out for someone — preferably the man himself — to show the strength of character to address Kuggeleijn’s behaviour and convince New Zealand cricket fans he is a suitable representative.

New Zealand Cricket’s official response — pleading a wish to "avoid re-litigating" the case, and claiming a workshop on sexual harassment and consent has been introduced for its players — is not yet satisfactory.

This story will not go away until the covers are taken off.

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