Everyone deserves to have their name pronounced correctly

Last weekend, the NRL celebrated Multicultural Round and it served as a brilliant reminder of the cultural diversity within the game.

Clubs participated in the Round in many ways. Belmore Sports Ground hosted the launch with representatives from the Canterbury Bulldogs and Wests Tigers in attendance. The Parramatta Eels worked with Tavita Mose to design a Pasifika training shirt and the Canberra Raiders did a snapshot highlighting player culture across their playing group.

I also want to acknowledge the many players who, perhaps for the first time, felt safe and empowered enough to proudly say their name correctly for all of us. This can only be done when a place of cultural safety is created. This safety, or lack thereof in the past, is potentially one of the reasons we are now seeing so many players speak openly in this space.

But whilst so many clubs took up the intent of the round with gusto, there are areas for improvement.

In particular, when I was listening to the commentary during the round, there seemed to be little to no attempt by some of the commentators to get name pronunciations correct.

This is not a new problem. Last year former NRL player Isaac Luke spoke out following the All Stars game due to incorrect pronunciation of the word "Māori" and this is an error still being made.

I understand that commentary roles are challenging. But I have an expectation that people whose full time job is to commentate on sport, at least attempt to try the right way and given how important player relationships are in a media role, you would think building rapport with players by saying their name correctly would be an easy win.

This is an area of real transition for the NRL and that change is happening fast. This might be part of the challenge facing commentators.

In the past, I know that players were given nicknames because their names were deemed too hard to say. Additionally, in Māori and Pasifika heritage there is a real emphasis on collective responsibility and being part of something bigger than themselves. Rather than players focusing on themselves individually and sharing the correct pronunciation, perhaps they wanted to make it easier for us (the collective) and gave us an easier version to pronounce.

Now, clubs are beginning to produce videos with the players saying their own names to help the rest of us to get it right. Clubs have finally learnt that writing a name phonetically in a 'media guide' does not always work given the way vowels are produced in many Pasifika languages.

Part of the challenge for commentators may be that they are trying to 'rote learn' names. With close to 400 players across the NRLM and NRLW, and this only set to expand, this means a commentator needs to 'rote learn' close to 800 names. This is not sustainable and is an inefficient way to learn, especially if a commentator wants to work in a different sport or a new player enters a squad.

Rather than 'rote learning' there are other resources available which can given commentators the basic building blocks and the confidence to pronounce Pasifika names.

Jessica Macartney is the founder of the Ingoa Project, which offers a course for sports media professionals to improve their competence and their confidence in pronunciation of athletes' names with Māori and Pasifika heritage.

"One of the unintended consequences of these videos is they have forced a lot of change at once so we aren't seeing this change happen slowly," Macartney told ESPN.

"That is a big ask for a commentator's delivery in one week.

"Because there isn't the education to back it up, in some cases this has led to worse pronunciation.

"Some commentators have been asking for these videos for a long time and think it will solve the problem, but even with access to the videos we are still seeing some names consistently pronounced incorrectly."

Some of you may think that this isn't a very big deal or that there are bigger issues to be concerned about in sport.

But my view is that everyone has the right and deserves the respect of having their name said correctly.

For many Māori and Pasifika people their name is tied to their culture and their identity. It is a reflection of who they are.

Instead of dismissing this as not important, there is a real opportunity to empower our Pasifika players to say their names correctly and to give them a place to explain why their name is important to them.

This is just one way that we can build greater connection between each other, and is a way that Multicultural Round can transcend just a Round and be something the game focuses on all year round.

Additionally, in terms of building connection this is not just about our players, but also our fan base too.

Some clubs took the approach of featuring their whole squad in the pronunciation videos whilst other clubs only included players whose names are deemed 'challenging'.

For me, the latter approach is problematic as it makes a lot of assumptions. It makes an assumption about what is 'challenging' and it also assumes that all NRL fans first language is English.

Just because 'Wade Graham' is a name that I find easy to pronounce, it doesn't mean that this is the case for everyone else. Additionally, it also has the effect of 'othering' our Pasifika and Māori players by signalling to them that they are different and it is their names that are challenging to pronounce.

So whilst Multicultural Round might be over, there's plenty of opportunity for all of us to continue to make rugby league inclusive for all, no matter your cultural identity.