All Black Aaron Smith has apologised for making “a huge mistake” after his airport toilet sex scandal.
“I’ve made a huge mistake, a huge error in judgement. I’d firstly like to say a huge sorry to my partner Teagan, her family, my family,” Smith said at a media conference in South Africa.
“I’m also sorry to my team-mates, NZRU and the New Zealand fans.
“My behaviour was unacceptable and if you could respect me and my partner in this situation. I’m just trying to get home to deal with this. Thank you.”
‘Distress’: Smith’s partner asks for privacy
Earlier, the partner of Smith has asked for privacy as she deals with “a very private matter” at this time.
In a statement released by the NZ Rugby Union this evening, Smith’s girlfriend Teagan Voykovich asked that media not contact her or her family as they dealt with the situation ahead of them, after the halfback and a woman used a disabled toilet at Christchurch Airport.
The statement said Voykovich was suffering from “some distress” by attempts to contact her about the incident involving Smith and a mysterious woman.
Aunt defends All Black
Smith’s aunt has defended the All Blacks star following his sex scandal, telling people to “leave him alone”.
Feilding woman Caroline Smith said her nephew was just a young guy.
She did not know the star player had a partner, but told Fairfax “he’s done really well for himself” in his rugby career.
“I suppose we have the All Blacks up on a pedestal, they have them up so high, but he’s just a young guy.”
Key: All Black clearly let himself down
Earlier, Prime Minister John Key said this afternoon that Smith “Clearly let himself and those that are close to him down”.
“I think there’s no question about that. And he’ll have to reflect on that, and I’m sure the New Zealand Rugby Football Union will reflect on that.
Key said that the All Blacks had been “for the most part” good role models in recent years under the leadership of Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.
“They do try and prove to young New Zealanders that they’re the sort of people to look up to.
“That’s why I think Aaron will feel pretty disappointed in himself.
“And I think the [NZRU], coming off the back of a few other pretty poor PR issues in recent times will want to send a strong message to the All Blacks that they have a high level of expectation of their behaviour.
“And Aaron clearly didn’t meet it.”
Key agreed that Smith needed to be held to account for his actions, but the punishment need to be in proportion with his actions.
“You can’t hold him responsible for the other issues that happened. They are individual events.
“It’s about proportionality here. But equally I suspect he’ll be sitting back reflecting on the fact that he’s let himself down… and frankly he’s embarrassed himself a bit.”
Smith stood down
Earlier, a witness described how Smith and the woman used a disabled toilet at Christchurch Airport for 5-10 minutes on a busy Sunday afternoon, saying there was no question of what the pair were up to.
Smith has been stood down by the All Blacks for one game and is heading home from South Africa after the squad were alerted to the airport incident that unfolded the day after the test against the Springboks in Christchurch three weeks ago.
“Clearly Aaron is bitterly disappointed in his behaviour and feels he has let the team down but just as importantly he feels bitterly disappointed in letting his family and his partner down,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said today.
Christchurch Airport this morning deemed the rugby player’s behaviour in the airport terminal’s toilet’s “inappropriate”.
“Like many public facilities, we have disabled facilities.
“We don’t condone inappropriate behaviour at our airport and we understand that matters are being dealt with between the All Blacks and the player concerned,” a spokeswoman said.
My Food Bag, which pulled sponsorship from the Chiefs following the stripper scandal, would not confirm whether Smith was a brand ambassador.
However, in a statement the company’s PR firm said: “This is new information and My Food Bag has not had the chance to discuss this with Aaron or his management, and have no comment during this time.”
Smith has posted about My Food Bag on Twitter a number of times, with the company responding.
— Aaron Smith (@A_Smith09) April 24, 2016
Quentin Bleakley, the New Zealand country manager for major All Blacks sponsor adidas, told the Herald the recent series of off-field incidents were disappointing as they were negatively impacting rugby’s image.
“Adidas has been the biggest sponsor of rugby in New Zealand since 1999 and we’ll continue to support the work that NZR is doing to nurture the game and inspire people to get out there and give their all on the field.
“We’re huge fans of the game and we’re disappointed that there have been a number of incidents which are impacting negatively on rugby’s image.
“It’s a game which has given so much to New Zealand – and we’re proud to be part of the success.”
‘This is disgusting for a public figure’
A man wrote to the Herald yesterday saying that he was at the airport with his wife and young children when they saw Smith “sneak” into a wheelchair access bathroom with a young woman who was not his partner.
“The pair were in the bathroom for 5-10 minutes and from the noises coming out of the bathroom there was absolutely no question what the couple were doing in there.
“Mr Smith then came out of the room on his own, straightening up his white checked shirt and black dress pants (the All Blacks uniform they were all wearing at the time).
“About a minute later the young lady comes out of the same toilet cubicle looking equally suspicious. I myself did not have a problem with this … my wife however is protesting that this is disgusting for a public figure to do.
“He essentially occupied a public cubicle reserved for the disabled for up to 10 minutes. This was not discreet, it was 2pm on a Sunday where there were a lot of children and fans around. He was in his full All Blacks uniform and there was not an ounce of remorse or regret on his face. He buttoned up his shirt and sat back down with his teammates and carried on smiling, chatting like nothing had happened.”
A South Island woman this morning denied she was the mystery female friend who left the disabled persons toilet cubicle minutes after Smith.
Smith is now heading back to New Zealand from South Africa and will miss Sunday’s test in Durban. New Zealand Rugby confirmed Smith will face a misconduct hearing on his return to New Zealand.
The incident occurred after the All Blacks’ 41-13 victory in Christchurch on September 17. All Blacks management were only made aware of the incident this week once they arrived in South Africa for their final Rugby Championship test.
“On the Sunday in Christchurch after the South African test at the Christchurch airport Aaron and a female friend were seen by members of the public to enter the disabled toilets,” All Blacks coach Steven Hansen said.
“On our arrival to South Africa on Monday we were informed on this. I had a conversation with Aaron who confirmed the story. As a result of this the leadership group met and were unanimous in the fact the behaviour wasn’t acceptable and as a consequence a one-match suspension would be put in place.”
“Clearly Aaron is bitterly disappointed in his behaviour and feels he has let the team down but, just as importantly, he feels bitterly disappointed in letting his family and his partner down.
“At his request he has asked to go home to deal with the personal matters that have come with this incident and we are happy to support him with that.”
Listen: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on the Aaron Smith incident
Smith was rested from last Sunday’s win over Argentina in Buenos Aires and had been expected to start against the Springboks in Durban. TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow are the remaining halfbacks in the All Blacks squad.
In 2012, Smith was benched ahead of a test against South Africa in Dunedin for breaching team protocol after missing a team curfew. Two years later a naked selfie of Smith was posted on the internet.
Smith, rated by many as the best halfback in the world, made his test debut in 2012 and has played 54 tests for New Zealand. He was a key part of the successful All Blacks Rugby World Cup campaign last year in England which capped off a stellar year for Smith after his Highlanders side claimed their maiden Super Rugby title earlier in the season.
In recent years Smith’s private life has spilled into public arena, including a one-night stand with Lisa Lewis.
In 2014 his then girlfriend, Hannah Whitefield, ditched the halfback after learning he had had a fling with the former stripper.
Whitefield learned about the cheating by the other woman, who filled her in on the details after learning Smith wasn’t single.
Lewis revealed the couple got together the night before a Super Rugby clash in Auckland, at a team hotel.
The pair kept in contact until Smith confessed to her he was seeing someone else.
At that stage Lewis broke off further liaisons with Smith and contacted Whitefield to tell her he had been unfaithful.
There was further embarrassment when a nude photo went viral on social media, forcing NZR to pull Smith from a meet-and-greet with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said: “This was really bad decision-making by Aaron which reflects poorly on him, and on the team.”
Tew said Smith has failed to meet the standards that New Zealand Rugby and the public expect of our players.
“We are taking action to improve the culture of our game and are about to embark on an independent review of respect and responsibility in our professional player environment. We have drafted the terms of reference and are currently talking to prospective panel members. We will provide an update on this shortly.”
UPDATE: Halfback Aaron Smith has been suspended for one Test after breaching team standards regarding behaviour, Steve Hansen says. #mtc
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) October 5, 2016
‘Bad publicity for the game’
Manawatu Rugby Union CEO John Knowles said it wasn’t a matter for them to be concerned with.
He said the incident was at a New Zealand Rugby level and any consequences were out of their hands.
“What I can say though is that he will not be available for the Turbos. When NZRU called me yesterday about the incident I did ask about his availability to play but they said no.”
He said the club would now sit tight and wait for the outcome of the discipline hearing scheduled for next week.
“It’s obviously disappointing what has happened, but of course we are happy it wasn’t out of our camp. But it’s disappointing Aaron would get himself involved in something like this that would generate bad publicity for the game.”
Smith had been a great ambassador for Manawatu rugby, he said, noting the halfbacks ability to interact well with fans and local charities.
Aaron Smith’s relationship history
Dec 2015 – present: Teagan Voykovich
Aaron Smith and Teagan Voykovich made their relationship public on the red carpet at the New Zealand Rugby Awards in December last year.
Voykovich, who works for fitness company Tika Training, was in London for the Rugby World Cup – thought it’s uncertain how the pair met.
According to Spy, three weeks before they hit the red carpet at the rugby awards Voykovich had posted a picture of them in front of a helicopter saying: “Happy birthday, kiss love heart” to Smith.
It seems Smith’s luck at romance fared no better later in the year when an attempt at the mobile dating app Tinder failed.
The woman, who remained anonymous, said she’d swiped right [liked] the Kiwi rugby player when on the app one day.
The Edinburgh student, who was 20 at the time, said she hadn’t known who he was at first – but some ten days after their profiles matched on the app she began chatting.
She said his Tinder profile read: “All the way from small old New Zealand! 25 years young. Down to earth guy. Fun n easy going. Love sports and anything outdoors.”
She claimed Smith invited her to his hotel room for a date, but said his height was a “big no-go”, given she was four inches taller than the rugby player.
“It’d be so awkward! I couldn’t do that. Imagine kissing him when you’re my height,” she said at the time.
Early 2014: Lisa Lewis
A Hamilton woman with whom he had a one-night stand with in 2014 after the pair had spent some time communicating virtually through phone-calls and online interactions.
Lewis told the Herald she hadn’t been aware of Smith’s relationship with Hannah Whitefield and when she did informed his then girlfriend of the affair.
She then broke off further contact with the All Black.
2012 – April 2014: Hannah Whitefield
The Dunedin woman, in her mid-twenties, met Smith at a game she was cheerleading at. Their relationship got underway after the All Black messaged to ask her out.
However, their relationship came to an end in 2014, when the news of Smith’s affair with Lisa Lewis, an escort and one-time Hamilton mayoral candidate came to light.
When Whitefield spoke out about her broken relationship back in 2014, she said she was “devastated”.
It is believed Whitefield, left New Zealand earlier this year and is living somewhere overseas.
Rugby’s recent problems
The sport has long dominated the headlines – though in recent months the attention has been not all its prowess on the field – but more about its players’ off-field misdemeanours.
The Chiefs Mad Monday scandal in early August when a stripper laid allegations against the rugby union team had barely paled in the headlines, when the news of a Wellington Rugby player, Losi Filipo’s assault charge came to light in September.
Today the spotlight has shifted to All Black Aaron Smith who’s been handed a one-match suspension following an incident involving a female in a disabled toilet at Christchurch airport.
New Zealand Rugby’s recent scandals
Early August: The Chiefs stripper scandal comes to light
Chiefs Mad Monday celebrations where a hired stripper alleged she’d been inappropriately touched by members of the squad.
A stripper, known as Scarlette, was hired by the team to perform a strip routine at their end-of-season celebrations at the Okoroire hot pools, near Matamata on August 1. She contacted media and told them a number of the players held her down and touched her inappropriately during her performance.
Not long after Scarlette’s news broke, another stripper, known as Laura also came forward claiming she had been sexually assaulted during a performance for the team’s 2015 Mad Monday celebrations.
Early September: Assault charges against Losi Filipo come to light
In early September there was a public outcry after it was revealed Losi Filipo, a Wellington Lions player had been charged with assaulting four young people, two men and two women, late one night last October, and had been discharged without conviction.
He’d punched one woman in the face, another man so badly it ended his rugby career and left him unable to work full time.