P.M. reacts to being called a “happy-faced islander”

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi has dismissed being called a “happy-faced islander” who is being used by World Rugby to “defend their political regime.”

The label comes from the Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare (P.R.P.W.) group, Daniel Leo, who said the decision to offer Samoa a seat on the World Rugby Council is a “smokescreen,” continuing the administration of the game like “those who found justification in segregation.”

But Tuilaepa rubbished Leo, a former Manu Samoa captain who played 39 test caps, saying he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. He called him a “kid.”

“If he’s complaining, I’m sure this is beyond his comprehension,” Tuilaepa responded during a media conference in his office yesterday evening. 

“I’m a bit worried that he’s trying to swim in my waters. He will drown. His concerns are irrelevant to us as a country because at the end of the day, we will have a voice on the Council and this will benefit the players of Samoa.”

Tuilaepa, who is the Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union, hailed the decision by World Rugby. 

“We don’t represent the Pacific, we only represent Samoa,” he said. 

“And the only reason we got it was because we have met all the criteria’s outlined by World Rugby. 

For four straight years our accounts were declared unqualified by the auditor so we introduced reforms, and we revamped the Constitution.”

The Prime Minister added that gender balance is critical in the world today.

“All over the world women are now required to have a voice and a seat at the international level; the representation of women is vital on any board. 

“Sometimes men make drastic decision due to their cockiness but having women is important because of foresight they bring can smooth out the decision making.”

Tuilaepa said Samoa has secured a seat while Tonga and Fiji are still trying to get one.

“It is vital to be part of the Council to have a voice for the development of rugby in our country, something this kid does not understand,” he said. 

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In a statement released by P.R.P.W. yesterday, Leo said that while the awarding of Samoa’s Council vote would certainly be a step in the right direction, it is not ‘mission complete’ by any stretch of the imagination.

 “Obviously I wish the Samoa Rugby Union and the Prime Minister well, if this is true, but at the moment, all Tuila'epa is to World Rugby is the “happy-faced islander” that they need to defend a political regime that even the PM knows is absolutely indefensible,” Leo said.

With Samoa on the Council, Leo said it would lift the number sitting on the Council to 50. But at least thirty of those votes are constitutionally guaranteed to belong to representatives of the Tier One unions: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, South Africa, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.

 “World Rugby continues to govern the game like those who found justification in segregation by using the intellectual defence of “separate but equal.”’

 “But the game cannot be equal if the majority of the game’s unions are deliberately separated from the governance process.”

Leo reiterated that there is no sports body in the Olympic movement that has a constitution weighted like World Rugby that specifically excludes the majority of its members, the developing nations of the so-called Tier Two and Three unions. 

 “What the world of sport needs to focus on is that, even if the Samoa news is confirmed, there could still be six Tier Two unions competing at the Rugby World Cup next year who have no seat on the main political body, no vote for the chairmanship and even have no representative on the game’s many committee structures.”

And Leo says bad governance is producing bad sporting outcomes on the field.

 “As a result of this lack of political representation, there is no pushback when R.W.C. organizers effectively handicap these Tier Two countries out of the tournament by giving them a much harder schedule that the richer Tier One unions who have the permanent voting majority,” said Leo.

Russia, Namibia, Tonga, Fiji, Uruguay and the yet-to-be-confirmed repechage team are the six teams, Leo said. It is known that Fiji has also applied for a World Rugby Council seat.

 The P.R.P.W. has already raised the alarm that Fiji and Samoa play their four Group Matches in 18 days when their Tier One opponents have, respectively, 20 and 21 days to play the same number of matches. 

Fiji needs to beat Australia and Wales to advance to the quarterfinals, while Samoa have Tier One sides Ireland and Scotland in their group.

 “But pity the poor repechage team,” said Leo, whose P.R.P.W. membership includes more than 400 Pacific Island rugby players who compete in the Top 14, Premiership and Celtic leagues.

The repechage tournament features Kenya, Hong Kong, Germany and Canada, with one team advancing to the RWC in the same group as New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia. 

 “By definition the repechage team is the weakest in the whole of the Rugby World Cup yet they have to play their four group matches in 17 days whereas the defending champion All Blacks are given a full three weeks,” said Leo.

 “How is that justified by an organisation that likes to claim it has been “Building Character Since 1886”?’

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