Arizona Wildcats to stop pre-game haka

THE American College Football side that made headlines this week for adopting the haka made famous by the All Blacks has decided to abandon the pre-game ritual.

A spokesman for Arizona Athletics told the Herald this afternoon that the Arizona Wildcats would no longer be performing the haka before games.

A video of the American football side performing Ngati Toa's "Ka Mate" haka before a game against UCLA recently was picked up in New Zealand and international media earlier this week.

The video - as well another teaching people "How to Haka" - received a mixed reaction from New Zealanders both here and abroad, with one Kiwi expat starting a petition to stop the university performing it.

The Arizona Wildcats, as well as a number of other sports teams including Brigham Young University (BYU) and the University of Hawaii, have been performing a haka prior to kick-off for a number of years.

The Arizona Athletics spokesman said neither the university, athletics department, football programme nor their student athletes intended to disrespect or offend anyone by doing the haka, and apologised to anyone that was.

"The Arizona football program has a strong lineage of Polynesian student-athletes, and in 2009, a group of players wished to share this aspect of their culture with their teammates and community.

"As a result, the Ka Mate haka, which had been popularized throughout the world by the All Blacks and recognized by other members of the team, became part of the program's on-field pregame preparation starting that year."

He said in sharing the haka with the members of the football programme, the players' intent was to show the pride they have in their Polynesian heritage.

"Even though that intent remains the same today, we've been made aware that a segment of the population is unhappy that the haka is being performed. As a result, we have decided to discontinue the activity."

The spokesman said moving forward the university were now planning to identify other alternatives that would provide an outlet for their Polynesian student athletes to showcase the heritage they are so proud of.

Dr Christina Campbell - who grew up in Christchurch and moved to California in 1994 to do her PhD at UC Berkeley - said she started the petition to stop Arizona University performing the haka because of "a large discussion" about it on the "Kia Ora USA Kiwis" Facebook page.

"I thought it would be a good way to let the university know that a large number of people were not happy. I have sent a number of emails to both the president of University of Arizona and the director of athletics, but have not heard back from them," she told the Herald earlier today.

"So far the response has been mostly positive - people are thanking me for doing it. Reactions seem to be mixed as to whether people think they should be doing the Ka Mate at all, or whether they just need to learn to do it properly. Ngati Toa chair has suggested the latter, and even suggested they would send people to teach them if the university paid. I emailed that to the two people listed above as well, but again have had no response."

Dr Campbell, an associate professor of anthropology at California State University Northridge, has lived in Los Angeles since 2000 but has all of her family still in New Zealand and travels home often to visit them.

Reacting to the news tonight, Dr Campbell said she was happy that the university had responded to the concerns.

"I hope that they are able to move forward and find a way that their Polynesian students can celebrate their culture more appropriately - maybe having a haka written for them, or given that many of their students are Samoan, a Siva Tau."

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