Probe dismisses Chiefs sex abuse claims
Wellington - An investigation into allegations a stripper was sexually assaulted at a Chiefs' function has cleared the players, but their conduct remains a "black mark", New Zealand Rugby (NZR) said on Wednesday.
NZR chief Steve Tew welcomed the findings but said the fact that the Super Rugby players thought it was appropriate to hire a stripper in the first place had left his organisation "deeply embarrassed".
A stripper, known as Scarlette, alleged last month that she was abused at Chiefs' end-of-season party, which was held in a rural pub in the North Island.
She alleged players aggressively crowded around her, touching her inappropriately and pouring alcohol on her, before refusing to pay her fully.
Tew said the claims were "alarming" and an NZR lawyer launched a comprehensive investigation, including interviewing nine independent witnesses who were at the venue but not part of the Chiefs' group.
He said no witnesses confirmed the woman's story, although they reported the players were raucous and noisy during the performance.
"Our investigation has found that the allegations made publicly have not been substantiated by witness accounts," he said, also noting that police had not received any complaints and were taking no action.
"As such, we will not take action against any individual players."
Instead, he said the entire Chiefs playing group, including individuals who were not there on the night, had been issued with a collective caution.
"We are far from satisfied... this leaves a black mark on rugby and on the Chiefs in particular," Tew said.
"We are deeply embarrassed to be dealing with this matter and we've made our views clear to the Chiefs and to the players."
Wild end-of-season partying by players has become known as "Mad Monday" and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said last month that the practice should be stopped.
Tew said such events should be strictly supervised, rather than banned outright, arguing: "If we drive it underground, we're likely to get worse behaviour."
He said hiring strippers for player parties was highly inappropriate and would never be condoned.
The Chiefs issued an apology on behalf of the players and chief executive Andrew Flexman confirmed two sponsors had withdrawn their support over the scandal.
The stripper Scarlette, whose identity has not been publicly released, questioned the findings.
"I am disappointed but not surprised at the outcome of the NZR's internal investigation," she said in a statement to commercial radio.