Pacific Islanders and rugby go hand in hand, rugby would absolutely be a poorer sport without the magic of the Fijian’s, the brute power of the Tongans and then the Samoans, imagine a world without the Tuilagi brothers, Brian Lima and even the likes of Jerrry Collins and Tana Umaga. The influence of the Somoan game is brilliant and far reaching. So with the news that the Samoan Rugby Union is going bankrupt, should the rest of the world be accountable for their financial failings?
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who is also the chair of the SRU, has claimed that his union are unable to pay off debts with banks and also need funds to pay players in the Manu Samoa sevens and fifteens squads.
The Union is holding a fundraising radiothon today in at attempt to address the union’s dire financial situation with the help of the general public.
“We are bankrupt,” he told the Samoa Observer.“In other words we are insolvent. It means the Union cannot continue to pay off our debts with the banks. We also need money to pay the players so they can continue to play.”
He also confirmed that the union didn’t have the money to pay for the insurance for Samoa’s players preparing for this weekends game against Scotland. Players from around the world have come out in support of Samoa including England’s Manu Tuilagi, the Leicester centre told the Mail on Sunday at the weekend: “A rugby world without Samoa is no rugby world to me. It would be very, very sad. There’s so much potential. With the right infrastructure and management, they can be as good as any team in the world.”
I must agree with Manu but there is a clear inconsistency between the tier 1 nations such as England, Australia and New Zealand compared to the likes of the Pacific Island nations. This is not just a problem for Samoa, their Polynesian brothers are getting just as bad rub of the green. How often do you see a test match in Apia or Suva? I’ll answer my own question, barely ever. I remember the All Blacks played their first ever test match in Apia two years ago, two years ago!!! One of their closest rugby nations, the biggest team in the world and it has taken till 2015 for them to play on Samoan soil, and her in lies the problem.
The English Rugby Union, or the RFU, is the richest Union in world rugby, why? Because there are around 7 test matches played at Twickenham every year, mostly against other tier 1 nations. So these games bring match day revenue, with tickets going for around £70/80 a go and 80 000 plus people buying those tickets, that adds up to around £6 400 000 on just tickets alone, per game. Now considering the debt of the Samoan RU totals around £1 000 000 this would be a drop in the ocean for the mega rich English.
So how do we solve the problem? In the short term I believe it is the responsibility of the RFU and other big unions such as New Zealand, France, Ireland etc to bail the Island nation out, if each made a donation depending on their yearly profit margins it would ensure there was a Samoan team for the near future, but long term, there needs to be another strategy. There needs to be a long term pledge from the tier 1 nations that they will play summer test matches in the Pacific Islands. My plan would be for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all to play 3 home games each per summer per year, if England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Argentina, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand each pledged to fill one of those fixtures each this would bring a huge boost to all three struggling nations. Not only would it bring tourism from the travelling fans, but they could fill out their stadiums, this income alone would be a boost but the big thing would be the television rights, the big nations going there would bring much needed TV money. I understand the international calendar is already packed but they could easily swap one of the pre existing fixtures for one of these, as I genuinely think this would start to address the economic gap that exists.
Another problem that seems to blight the Island Nations is the residency rule, the rule where after living in a country for
three years you are eligible to represent said country. Now I agree to an extent that players that have been in a country for a long time should be given the right to represent that country, but I believe three years is too short. Just about every top international side has an Islander in their team, imagine if these box office names were playing for their country of birth. The likes of Manu Tuilagi for Samoa, Vaea Fifita for Tonga or Virimi Vakatawa for Fiji, surely if these players played for their home nations they would make their countries stronger in turn making the bigger nations want to play them. I think the residency rule should be moved to 7 years, now this may sound extreme but it will stop the bigger nations from targeting individual players to come to their country. The 7 year rule though would still allow for players that had come through foreign academies and age grade structures to represent their new nation.
Is there an easy way to fix the flailing union? Absolutely not, but with the cooperation of the bigger nations and the backing of the IRB it is possible to turn around Pacific rugby and I assure you, a rugby world without the skill, pace and power of our Polynesian brothers is a rugby world that I’m not keen on being part of.
Thank you for reading Gain Line Rugby’s take on the current crisis in Samoa, we hope you found it informative but let us know what you think, what would your plan be to save the Island powerhouse?