NZR backs teen star in street attack

2016-09-27 07:20
Steve Tew (Getty)

Wellington - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) came under fire on Tuesday for standing by a promising teenage star who viciously assaulted four people, including two women, on a Wellington street.

In a case that sparked accusations the court system in rugby-mad New Zealand gives sports stars special treatment, wing Losi Filipo escaped conviction after a judge said he did not want to derail his career.

"If it was anyone else on the street, they wouldn't be let off for any of this - for attacking four of us - punching two females," Kelsey Odell, one of the 18-year-old's victims, told TV3.

NZR, which was criticised last month over its handling of sexual assault allegations against Chiefs players, said it did not condone behaviour that disrespected woman.

But it said Filipo had been dealt with by the court system and it was not the organisation's place to comment further.

Amid calls for Filipo's contract with Wellington Rugby to be torn up, NZR said it was standing him.

"We believe young men, like Losi, are better off with rugby in their lives," NZR chief Steve Tew said in a statement.

"Rugby provides a positive environment that helps equip players to manage the challenges they will face in life during and beyond their playing days."

Filipo's defence did not dispute the facts of the unprovoked late-night attack in central Wellington last year involving the player and his brother.

The teenager stomped on the head of one of the male victims as he lay prone on the ground, leaving the man unable to work for eight months.

Odell, a model, said she will require plastic surgery to her face after Filipo hit her. The other woman was punched in the throat.

In sentencing, judge Bruce Davidson said such a serious attack would normally attract an 18-month jail term but a conviction would hinder Filipo's chances of playing professionally.

"I have to ask myself, are the courts truly in the business of destroying people's career prospects?" he asked.

Several All Blacks have also avoided convictions after facing criminal charges, including Julian Savea (domestic violence) and George Moala (assault).

Prime Minister John Key said while he could not comment on Filipo's case specifically, the justice system should treat sports stars like everyone else.

"Violence is unacceptable anywhere, it doesn't matter what your profession is," he told reporters.

"If you undertake violence then you should be held to the same set of rules as everybody else."

Read more on:    new zealand rugby  |  rugby

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