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"Jolly Japes" in the South Pacific

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Contributor:
Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith
Mathieu Bastareaud. Pic: NZPA

The continually unravelling case of French rugby player Mathieu Bastareaud has revealed, not only the inept player management from team officials, but that the old colonial attitudes that became all to tragically apparent in the Rainbow Warrior bombing are still very much a part of the French psyche today. 

Back in 1985, a supposedly allied French Government sent military personnel to our country in order to carry out an act of terrorism on a pacifist environmental organisation. French behaviour in the South Pacific over the last 50 years testifies to the fact that they seem to feel they have some kind of personal right to do as they wish in this region.

New Caledonia and French Polynesia remain as bastions of the French colonial era. They hark back to a time when the great powers divided up the map of the world between themselves with little or no regard to the indigenous peoples that inhabited the countries of the 'new world'.

The tides of change after the Second World War swept away the stale concept that it was the right of economically and technologically powerful nations to impose their will upon supposedly lesser peoples. In the past, these 'lesser people' were expected to accept their servitude with gratitude that such a great power had seen fit to bestow on them the benevolence of their superior way of life.

History shows that a common characteristic of a colonial power is arrogance. It also shows, that a colonial power continues to behave like it has an empire even when empire and influence have faded. 

In 1985, the French military seemed to think that their personnel and expertise were going to be no match for the police force of a quiet backwater like New Zealand. After all this was the nation who had stepped out of line by sending a frigate armed with little more than a Cabinet Minister to oppose French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. In a way I suppose they thought we had it coming.

Greenpeace were continuing the fight against nuclear testing and we were hosting their protest vessel - it was time both were taught a lesson. It must have been a surprise for the French when the plot unravelled steadily on the international stage, slowly uncovered by the New Zealand Police, despite the best efforts at denial and obstruction by the French Government. Tragically it was too late for Fernando Pereira. Even in the cold light of the truth, the French Government eventually reneged on its word over the detention of the only two agents that were brought to justice. 

Fast forward now to 2009 and we have the French Rugby team touring New Zealand. A player ends up with bad facial injuries after a night out. He claims that he was assaulted by 4 or 5 Maori or Polynesian males. Just when team management became aware of the truth is unclear, but it is almost certain that they were aware of the lie long before the supposed 'confession' of monsieur Bastareaud.

It is hardly coincidental that the 'confession' came only after Bastereaud was safely shipped back to France in quick order. Upon arrival he announced that he was surprised at all the fuss. Then with the New Zealand Police about to reveal that the assault allegations were false, there came the statement from Bastereaud that he had made the whole thing up. The 'truth' was that he had in fact fallen over in his hotel room.

Max Guazzini his employer at the Stade Francais club dismissed the episode as "youthful misadventure". He added that it "was simply jolly japes by a youngster". That all cleared up he announced that Bastareaud had "now gone on holiday to the French West Indies". So that was it. Tarnishing our countries international reputation was just "jolly japes". He had really been assaulted by one of our coffee tables. In his intoxicated state, he probably saw 4 or 5 coffee tables. 

Now we hear a report from a reputable French newspaper that alleges that Bastareaud was punched by a team mate. We also hear that Bastareaud is not in fact in the Caribbean he never left Paris and is now in a secure psychiatric facility after allegedly trying to take his own life.

In the background and protesting their innocence the whole way is the French Rugby union. Like their Government back in 1985, they issue strong denials of involvement and knowledge the whole way until confronted by the truth. If it wasn't for the CCTV footage, none of this would have come out. The French would have been happy for us to 'carry the can' for the incident.

It is sad to see that the arrogant colonial attitude of superiority is still alive and well. It is also sad that the real victim Mathieu Bastareaud has now been left alone to shoulder the responsibility for the French. The team management, who had a duty of care to the young player, both before and after the incident, get away with their failure.

The French Rugby Union's hashed attempt to cover up the incident shows they are happy for the player alone to be sacrificed while the real perpetrators hide in the shadows. This behaviour echoes' the French Governments in 1985 who were happy for fringe players Marfart and Prieur to be sacrificed while the real perpetrators remained free.

Thankfully like in 1985, the New Zealand Police approached their search for the truth in a thoroughly professional manner and triumphed over lies and deception. A former colonial power like France could learn a lot from our police, but history shows they are likely to ignore this lesson too. For them it is just another case of "jolly Japes" in the South Pacific.    

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