A new documentary, produced by former Samoa international player Dan Leo, has highlighted the treatment of rugby players from the Pacific Islands.
‘Oceans Apart: Greed, Betrayal and Pacific Island Rugby’, provides a damning account of the way World Rugby and elite nations of the sport exploit the players that come from the Pacific Islands, made up of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, without providing an adequate return for the wealth these players are known to bring.
Leo states within the documentary how important rugby is on the Pacific Islands, with children aspiring to one day enter the game professionally, not only for themselves but to support their loved ones, many of which come from financially strained backgrounds. Players from the island working abroad make up as much as 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga. Both the passion to play the game and provide financial welfare for their families, therefore, has opened up a greater opportunity for those players to be exploited by their respective teams, the documentary argues.
Despite only having a combined population of over 1.5 million, the Pacific Islands provide almost a quarter of all professional rugby players, however this isn’t seen as enough to have its voice heard by World Rugby, which is dominated by the 10 tier one nations (Argentina, Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales), who each have three votes on the World Rugby governing council, whilst on the other hand, Fiji and Samoa have one vote and Tonga has no vote at all.
“I can’t help but feel we’re being taking advantage of,” Leo starts.
“I can’t help but compare colonialism to what’s happening in rugby. Our resources are being continually exploited with very little ever given back.”
In rugby, there exists an eligibility rule that means once you have played for one country, you can no longer play for any other. Leo believes this rule is assisting in the exploitation of the Pacific Islands, as many players are recruited by other nations as teenagers and directed to play for those countries, weakening the Islands further. At the 2014 Rugby World Cup, 42 players from the Pacific Islands played for other nations.
Leo added: “World Rugby currently operates a one nation for life rule, forcing players to give up a huge part of their identity.
“These players could choose to play for their island teams. But knowing you’ve got villages, families and communities relying on the money sent back from overseas rugby players, it can often seem selfish to play for your island team knowing how little money you’ll receive.”
Whilst highlighting the problem, Leo also provides three solutions, including, a fair share of the wealth Pacific players provide, an end to the eligibility rule and an increased voice for the Pacific in World Rugby.
Leo is currently in charge of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare organisation, set up to protect and fight for the fairer treatment of those players who come from the Islands. This documentary was created to spread his and the organisations awareness of the mistreatment that his fellow players have suffered from and will continue to, if change is not enacted soon.
Author: Jake Wilkin