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Spain and Netherlands teams apologize for disrespecting the Haka

by Rodrigo Verney, July 30 2023—

Two videos surfaced in the days leading up to the arrival of the Netherlands’ and Spain’s national women’s soccer teams to New Zealand, one of the countries hosting the Women’s World Cup. The videos in question capture the teams replicating the famous Maori tradition of the Haka, a ceremonial war dance typically performed by the Native tribes that were famously incorporated by the national team across all sports.

The videos were criticized for featuring the Maori tradition mockingly — taunting and laughing at some of the moves present in the dance. Both teams were aware that they were being recorded and willingly posted on social media where it met waves of backlash. 

Spain’s mockery was taken as the more severe example of cultural apathy as four players seemingly exchange laughs as they perform improvised moves for the camera in a 30-second video. Netherlands’ disrespect came in the form of an Instagram live in which a player exaggerates one of the moves in what was categorized as an effort to caricature the tradition. 

The two teams quickly apologized for the controversy and their words were recognized by Maori leaders as “coming from the heart”. Two players from each squad came forward to speak on behalf of their respective teams. Spain captain, Ivana Andres, who was one of the four women present in the video and Merel van Dongen, the player featured in the Netherlands video.

“If I’ve hurt people with it, I’ll say sorry to them. It won’t happen again,” said Merel van Dongen. “I did not realize at all what it would cause. It was absolutely not my intention to make fun of the Haka.”

“We’ve only been in Aotearoa New Zealand for a few days and we have so much to learn about your culture. Therefore, thank you so much for the kindness to dedicate a few minutes of your wisdom, especially in such [an] important moment as Matariki,” said Andres in a statement to elders and members of the local Rangitane O Manawatu iwi tribe at a greeting ceremony called powhiri.

The internet wasn’t as kind to them as other officials have been and demanded a more severe penalty for the players. In a joint effort by FIFA and Native New Zealand tribes have announced that Indigenous flags of Australia and New Zealand will be on display during the World Cup. FIFA will also display the English and traditional First Nation translation of each host city and place name that will be used for the tournament.

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