Troy Bowker has announced he is exiting his co-ownership of the Hurricanes rugby franchise after a firestorm over his comments on race.
The Wellington businessman has been at the centre of controversy over comments he has posted online regarding Sir Ian Taylor, the Government and inflammatory responses he has sent to people who have criticised those comments.
Bowker this week accused Taylor on LinkedIn of “sucking up to the left Māori agenda” for supporting the name Aotearoa.
He also sent obscenity-laced responses to people who hit out at his comments.
Tonight, in a statement, Bowker revealed that for the past six months the Hurricanes board had been working through a “capital restructure in preparation for the ending of the current licence on 31 August”.
“I understand other private investors are also taking the opportunity to change their shareholding.
“The Hurricanes board will confirm that these discussions have been taking place for several months and I have now notified the chairman that I intend to accept the offer which has been made for my shares on terms with which I am very happy.”
His comments this week saw sponsors and even players in the Hurricanes squad question Bowker’s stance. That included All Black and Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara.
But tonight, Bowker insisted: “In respect of my comments to which some people have taken offence, I wish to make it clear that I stand behind the theme of what I said and my right to express those views in a free, democratic society.
“I note that Sir Ian Taylor agreed the comments were not racist and welcomed the opportunity to debate the different opinions that had been raised.
“I agree with him that such debate is healthy and constructive at times when people feel strongly about issues that may polarise or divide and thank him for his willingness to engage.”
Bowker questioned in his statement whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would be “willing to comment on whether my remarks would be considered Hate Speech, prosecutable under the proposed legislation?”.
“If she cannot – we should all be very concerned.”
Bowker said his comments on LinkedIn were “never intended to involve rugby or my involvement with the Hurricanes as a shareholder or board director”.
“However it is clear that this has become the central focus for the media rather than the important issues around New Zealanders being proud of the many incredible historical achievements of all of our ancestors, whether they be European, Māori or any other lineage.”
He said he wished the Hurricanes well: “I have always loved rugby and I am proud of the contribution I have made to the Hurricanes and to rugby in Wellington and the wider region, in particular to the Alumni Foundation which helps players post career and those with serious life affecting injuries.”
Comments questioned by Hurricanes sponsor
On Friday, Jamie Williams, CEO of hospitality business Kapura, and a club sponsor, said they had been in dialogue with Hurricanes management.
“We obviously let them know we didn’t think it was the right alignment for the Hurricanes,” Williams said.
“That leads to pressure on us supporting our business and asking if we’re going to carry on sponsoring the Hurricanes. If you have someone on your waka that’s not singing to the same tune, there’s got to be some action.
“By no means is that a threat; we’ll always be there to support the Hurricanes because they’re part of Wellington, but they need to clean shop pretty quick.”
Kapura employs more than 800 staff across its 35 Wellington venues and aligns with the Hurricanes through its Fortune Favours brand.
Williams said at the time the only way forward is for the Hurricanes and Bowker to part ways.
“I think they know it; it’s just how quickly they can do it.
“The first step is to probably try to get Troy off the board, which I know a lot of people have been calling for.
“Then, over time, you’d probably expect they try to find a way to help Troy sell his shares.”
Perenara also took to Twitter on Thursday labelling Bowker’s comments racist and insulting.
On Friday, Labour Cabinet minister Stuart Nash – who has received more than $50,000 in donations from Bowker – also criticised his political donor.
Nash made it clear he won’t be taking any more money from the under-fire Wellington businessman.
“I’ve made it clear I won’t be taking any more donations from Troy.”
Nash said the comments made by Bowker were appalling, and said ‘it’s not the Troy I know”.
“I have no time for those sorts of comments whatsoever, I don’t believe them.
“I know Sir Ian Taylor, I think he’s a fantastic gentleman. I’ve been doing work with him in the tourism space, in fact I’ve done quite a lot of work with Sir Ian over the years and I think he’s fantastic.
“I certainly think the comments were appalling and I hope he backs away from them actually.”
Parliament’s Speaker Trevor Mallard, a long-time Hurricanes fan, also joined the controversy, claiming the comments were undoing progress on race relations. He said he would boycott the team until Bowker resigned.
Sports Minister Grant Robertson also weighed in, calling the comments “appalling” and stating he was also considering a boycott.
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