Don’t just blame World Rugby. Let’s look within first

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The undeniable truth is this. The Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.) is caught between a rock and a hard place. That’s why it has no other option but to be dictated to by World Rugby.

Poor Chief Executive Officer Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i and his team have no other option. What other choice do they have? 

It’s not as if the Union’s account is bursting at the seams with millions of dollars. The reality is that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel to the point where they have had to literally beg members of the public for help. Not just once but twice in as many years. 

And in Samoa’s desperation, the guys at World Rugby have found the perfect opportunity. They know Samoan rugby is sinking and there are two ways they can make life even more miserable than it already is. They can continue to withhold the much-needed funding, especially for the coaching position, if Samoa refuses to follow their orders. 

There is also the recent push by the Samoa Rugby Union for a seat on the World Rugby Council. In essence, World Rugby is telling Samoa that if you want a sniff of these things, you’ve got to do what you are told or forget about them. 

In light of recent developments, critics have been quick to condemn World Rugby’s bullying tactics. Some have gone as far as to suggest World Rugby shouldn’t be telling Samoa what to do. They’ve got a point.

But is it really World Rugby’s fault that we have found ourselves in this position today? We don’t think so. 

Come to think of it, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the people lording over the decision making of the Samoa Rugby Union only have themselves to blame. The process that World Rugby has forced Samoa to take should have been done by the Samoa Rugby Union in the first place. 

And what is that you might ask? Well, for the selection of the coaching position to follow the process that is transparent, accountable and underpinned by good governance. 

To understand what’s happening today, we need to backtrack to the events last year, which led to the selection of coach Fuimaono. It started when former coach, Namulauulu Alama Ieremia, tendered his resignation. The job was immediately advertised and a selection panel, including a representative of World Rugby, went through the applicants. From the shortlist, the panel made their recommendation. Fuimaono was not their choice. In fact, of all the candidates, he was ranked seventh. 

But this is Samoa and the Samoa Rugby Union is where anything is possible. 

As such, Tuilaepa, who is the Chairman, booted the recommendation from the panel to touch and appointed Fuimaono, who was a member of the S.R.U. Board by the way, to take over the role. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Prime Minister Tuilaepa went on to rubbish the work of the selection panel saying they got it wrong. 

“I would say in my years as Chairman, about 95 percent of the panelists’ recommendations are accepted by the Board - only in exceptional circumstances that the recommendations are not accepted,” he said.

The selection of the Manu Samoa coach is one of those.

“Many of our players do not fully understand the coaches’ directives in English. Some of our expatriate appointees by the World Rugby do not fully appreciate cultural practices of our players, which by tradition generate greater mental preparation for our players.

“That is why the Board recommends other management appointees who are locals to help out. There are many negative feedbacks that the Board has to try and resolve on many cultural matters beyond the understanding of World Rugby officials.”

Tuilaepa went to defend Fuimaono’s credentials pointing out that he was the head coach when Manu Samoa beat the Wallabies in 2011. 

“Sponsorships and good performances on the field are closely related. Which is why we are especially preoccupied with coaches who produce good results on the field,” he said.

“From the communications with World Rugby, their view is that the S.R.U. should only be a rubber stamp. That is to approve whatever a sub-committee recommends. We disagreed. Indeed we attach importance to coach performance on the field. In a small country where rugby is popular, the public is most vocal when its rugby team does not perform.

“And the Board has to bear all the bad publicity from the fans. We are answerable to our public and sponsors who fund over 60 percent of our Budget.”

Well that was last year. While Tuilaepa had his way since he is the boss of the Samoa Rugby Union, the decision came with consequences. World Rugby refused to pay Fuimaono’s salary.

Fast forward to today, Fuimaono has done what the Samoan rugby public wanted and that was to coach the Manu Samoa to qualify for the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year. You would think that naturally he would be the best man for the job in Japan.

Keep in mind that he might still be that man provided he makes it through the new interviewing process. Who knows? This is Samoa and the Samoa Rugby Union where anything is possible. 

If anything, we feel sorry for coach Fuimaono, he is the real victim in all of this mess. Let’s not forget the Manu Samoa players as well. This close to the World Cup and yet all these mind games continue to disrupt their preparations. 

Which is unfair because these issues have nothing to do with them. The controversies of today go back to decisions being made in the Boardroom.

See, if the Chairman and his Board did what they were supposed to do in the first place and had gone through with the proper process, none of this would be happening. But because they didn’t, these issues have a funny way of surfacing, which is precisely what has happened. 

But we are a sovereign country, some people have said. That’s true but the Samoa Rugby Union is desperate and they need World Rugby’s money. Beggars can’t be choosers. 

How did we arrive where we are today? And how long will it be before World Rugby tells Samoa to replace the Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union and his Board? Stay tuned!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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