Cecil Albert Blazey was chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union during the most turbulent period of its history. He was born in Hastings on 21 July 1909, youngest of the five children of William Robert Blazey, a wood-turner and later mill foreman, and his wife, Emily Cross. Ces grew up in Sydenham, Christchurch, where the Blazey family had moved before he was two. His parents were strict Methodists (his father was a local preacher) and instilled a strong sense of responsibility and discipline in their children. Ces attended Woolston School and Christchurch Boys’ High School and, like his older brothers, made his mark in sport.
Despite his mother’s disapproval, on leaving school Blazey joined the Territorial Force in 1927. In the same year he passed the examinations for his commission as a second lieutenant with the New Zealand Permanent Army Service Corps. That year he got a job as a junior clerk with the Australian Mutual Provident (AMP) Society and for two years studied part time for a BCom at Canterbury College, but did not complete the degree. He played rugby for university and was a leading junior tennis player. His 50 years’ involvement with sporting administration began in 1936 when he represented Canterbury on the New Zealand Universities Rugby Council, which he chaired for over 20 years.
On 13 February 1935 Blazey married Mavis Emily Peek at Christchurch. In the same year he was transferred to the Wellington office of the AMP Society. The Blazeys bought a house in Karori, where they lived for the rest of their lives.
When war was declared in September 1939, Blazey was turned down for overseas service on medical grounds. In September 1940 he became supply and transport officer for Central Military District. In 1942, after attending the Staff College at Massey Agricultural College, Palmerston North, he was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel. In April 1943 he was posted to the Pacific as commander, New Zealand Permanent Army Service Corps for the 3rd New Zealand Division. He acted initially as liaison officer to the American forces based in New Caledonia. New Zealand units moved north to Bougainville, and Blazey, based at Guadalcanal, was involved with planning supply and transport for island hopping. Conditions in the tropical jungle were such that almost none of the formal training Blazey and other transport and supply personnel had received was relevant. Instead, they designed their own training and operational guidelines for supply and transport in amphibious warfare. He later said that it was his war time experience of working under stress that subsequently enabled him to carry on with his heavy administrative load.
Blazey returned to New Zealand in August 1944 and was posted to the reserve. He was made an OBE (military) in 1945. He retained a lifelong loyalty to the army. On 1 October 1957 he was appointed colonel commandant of the Royal New Zealand Army Service Corps, an honorary position which he retained until 1969.
Back in Wellington, Blazey resumed work at the AMP Society. He was a member of the Insurance Tutorial School Board from 1945 and of the Executive Council of the Insurance Institute of New Zealand from 1954 to 1979 (president 1960–61). He was also for 20 years chief supervisor of insurance examinations in New Zealand. In 1969 he was appointed New Zealand senior assistant manager of the AMP Society, retiring the following year after 43 years’ service.
Blazey’s business expertise led to his involvement in many other organisations. He chaired the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand’s finance committee and was financial adviser to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. He sat on the Central Regional Programme Advisory Committee of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (1971–73) and was also a director of the Realty Development Corporation.
Blazey’s career in athletic administration began at his local Karori club. He served the Wellington Centre of the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association (NZAAA) as chairman (1948–54) and president (1954–57). He was a member of the management committee of the NZAAA (1954–81) and president (1958–59), and a member of the International Amateur Athletics Federation’s Oceania Regional Group Congress. Blazey also served for 24 years on the New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association as a member of its council. He was deputy controller of athletics for the Commonwealth Games at Christchurch in 1974 and was on the advisory board at Auckland in 1990. A dedicated advocate of amateur sport, Blazey is remembered for his time-consuming (and unpaid) work and his care for the athletes.
As a rugby administrator, Blazey excelled in his knowledge of the constitution, rules and laws of the game and would always base his arguments on the rule book. He was on the International Rugby Football Board’s Laws Committee from 1972 to 1986, chairing it from 1972 to 1978. He was also a member of the Executive Committee from 1957 to 1986, experiencing almost continual controversy throughout his term of office.
Blazey once said: ‘I really need a wee bit of pressure to do my best work’. The NZRFU had agreed to the exclusion of Māori players from the All Black side that toured South Africa in 1960. However, in March 1966, after public agitation that had gone on since the 1950s, Blazey and Tom Morrison told the South African Rugby Board that the NZRFU would not contemplate an invitation that disqualified Māori from touring with the All Blacks in 1967. That meeting led to the abandonment of the tour and to the historic issuing of an invitation to New Zealand to send its best team for a tour in 1970. From that time a strong New Zealand anti-apartheid movement aimed to sever sporting contacts while South Africa selected teams in a discriminatory way. Norman Kirk’s Labour government forced the abandonment of a tour by a racially selected South African side in 1973.
In April 1978 Blazey’s wife Emily died. For the next eight years Blazey devoted himself almost totally to sporting administration and became a household name through his chairmanship of the NZRFU council from 1977. When the NZRFU again invited South Africa to send a team in 1981, New Zealand became polarised into pro- and anti-tour factions; some players made themselves unavailable for the All Black team. The tour proceeded amid massive street demonstrations and violent clashes between police and demonstrators. Under intense pressure, and personal abuse, Blazey always retained his courteous demeanour. He never refused an interview but declined to give personal opinions, confining himself to stating the policy decisions of the NZRFU. He resigned the chairmanship of the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association when the Waikato member body, which he represented, made it clear that his chairmanship of the Rugby Union conflicted with the NZAAA’s stand against apartheid in sport.
Blazey’s unwillingness to reveal his personal views proved wise; but his sincere belief that politics had no place in sport could result in a degree of naivety: ‘The primary purpose of the tour’, he stated, ‘was to play rugby football. This was achieved’. In 1985, a planned tour of the All Blacks to South Africa was prevented by a High Court injunction. The Rugby Union then refused to authorise players to tour as individuals. When an unofficial team, the Cavaliers, defied the union and toured in 1986, Blazey felt they had betrayed the union and undermined its authority.
Blazey retired from the chairmanship of the NZRFU in 1986. He had become a life member in 1982 and remained chairman of the appeal council. Ces Blazey always retained his reputation for personal charm, dignity and courtesy. He became an honoured member of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame at its inaugural induction in 1990, and was made a CBE in 1991. He died at Wellington on 20 February 1998 aged 88, survived by a daughter.