Rugby Union responds
The Samoa Rugby Union has issued a response to an Open letter to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi which raised concerns about the welfare of young players. The response is published verbatim below:
Re: Robert Lolesio’s Open Letter to the Prime Minister
Concerns re the High Performance Unit (HPU) and Medical Facilities:
(Our son was not looked after properly and the HPU is substandard and not fit for human habitation)
The Samoan Rugby Union (SRU), take player welfare very seriously.
The Manu 7’s team, stay at the High Performance Unit (HPU) throughout the HSBC 7’s series, without any problem with the facility.
The 2016, U20’s team also stayed at the HPU and had no issues. This was due to the fact they had a well-planned campaign and the Head Coach ensured everything was in place for the team.
One of the issues we were faced with this U20’s program in 2017 is that the Head Coach (JP Leota) did not provide SRU with any plans. No training plans, no plans for the team staying at the HPU, or the numbers that would be here.
It is very difficult to effectively accommodate and prepare for players living at a facility, without knowledge of the teams plan. In 2016, after an effective and extensive overseas trial process, only 18 overseas players were invited to come to Samoa for the final trial.
This year, 50 players were invited back, giving false expectation to many families and without a clear plan of how they were going to be accommodated or a clear number of actual expected. This made it very difficult for the SRU to coordinate, as programs were often changed at the last minute.
Management addressed the concerns around the financial impact with the Head Coach and he assured the Union that overseas based players were well informed of the process around selection and camps in Samoa.
At the HPU the players are monitored on a daily basis by our physiotherapy staff, and had access to treatment daily. A Wellness program is run on a daily basis as well to assess player’s level of recovery and ability to train that day. Unfortunately the Head Coach did not like this and did not take advice from the staff regarding this.
Immediately prior to the Oceania tournament the Head Coach (JP) took the players out of the HPU into another venue for a training camp. From our understanding part of the motivation behind this was so that the SRU could not monitor/overview his training methods.
In doing this, it made it difficult for the U20s to access Physiotherapist and Medical services, as other teams (7’s) were also training at the HPU. Again, the Management met with JP and voiced our grave concerns with his lack of direction of the U20s campaign.
Duty of Care:
At the Oceania tournament, we were informed that the Head Coach in two separate 3 hour meetings, belittled with vexatious outburst of his players, Following these sessions we had multiple complaints from parents about how their sons had been treated and that they were prepared to withdraw them from the team due to this treatment.
Subsequently, on returning back from Oceania, the Union summoned JP and fronted up to all the issues raised and he agreed to resign. He was replaced as Head Coach, in the best interests and safety of the team, by Mahonri Schwalger, who had assisted the Team on island (at JP’s request) and travelled with the squad as team Technical Advisor.
Mahonri stepped in at short notice to take over the Team, immediate change in the attitude of the team was noticeable along with communication and planning. The players respected their new Coach. He inherited a lot of issues and did his best to get the team back to a level where they could be competitive at the Junior World Championship, with a team selected by the outgoing Coach. We are grateful to Mahonri for these efforts.
Not providing meals:
There was some miscommunication on return from Oceania, again due to a lack of communication and planning, as the SRU were not aware of the number of players returning to stay at the HPU facilities.
The U20’s had met as a group, and SRU were informed by the teams Manager, Shinn Ete, that no players would be staying at the HPU over the Mother’s Day weekend, as they had decided as a group, to stay with families and friends. Therefore it was a surprise to get a message from a parent that 4 players had in fact decided to stay at the HPU that was supposedly closed for the long weekend. Meals were not provided for those four over that time, as the SRU were informed after the fact. Senior Management urgently visited the HPU out of concern, and arranged meals effective immediately.
Boils: Yes it was a concern.
A small number of players presented with boils over time.
On numerous occasions, physiotherapy and training staff, informed players of the importance of personal hygiene and covering boils up, to prevent these infections spreading further to other players. These infections are contagious and can be passed on through skin contact or sharing of personal items such as roll on deodorants, clothing and towels. If players had boils, they were treated and covered. The HPU has very good medical and physiotherapy services.
On arrival to Oceania a number of the players with boils were then seen to by medical staff in Australia. The SRU had done everything they could at this point, to educate the players on prevention and spread, and provided continued treatment. Again this came down to personal hygiene. With particular reference to Ethan’s boil, as soon as we were aware of it he was taken to a doctor, and got the appropriate treatment.
In a telephone conversation with Ethan’s mother, Mrs. Lolesio, she asked the General Manager of Rugby to pass on her appreciation and thanks to the Physio staff for the way they had looked after the Ethan and the players. A complete contradiction as noted in the open letter, stating there was no duty of care for their son.
The open letter fails to mention Mr Lolesio’s personal connection to the past Coach. We do acknowledge that the team Manager fell short in his areas of responsibility, a separate matter which the Union is addressing on upcoming Campaign and Staff reviews.
No Management or Mahonri said goodbye to our son:
Ethan was not selected from the final group of boys. When he left the program, he did so without informing anyone. He was here one day and gone the next. It is very hard to say goodbye to someone when they just get up and leave. We would have liked the opportunity to have said goodbye to him and wish him well.
We will never recommend any Samoans in Australia to trial for the Manu Samoa as they are negligent and lack management skills:
Following Ethan’s return to Australia, we did receive an email from Ethan’s father stating his son’s eagerness to return to us, that he was well, keen and available, if needed.
Email received from Robert Lolesio on May 23rd. There were no suggestions of problems or complaints.
Hope you and the family are well.
It is great having Ethan back, all his boils are now gone and he is feeling fit and ready to go again.
Brett, Ethan’s agent said that there is an injury in the backs at the moment?
Ethan is keen and available if you need him, as he is registered to play in the Rugby World Cup. Can you please let the management know that he is keen and available to pla.
Thanks again Brain, Blessings,
Re: Letter writers request of reinstating and mentoring of the Head Coach, JP Leota.
Reinstating the outgoing Coach would lose us credibility. He has put our Union and our players at risk. Relevant SRU staff including Senior Coaches and Director of Rugby offered assistance throughout, but he did not want any assistance or advice. Requests for a copy of the Coaches campaign plan were made on numerous occasions. There was no planning done for the campaign, nor strategies put in place for the campaign.
I feel for the players in Georgia as I do not trust the coaching staff or management to have the ability to look after them properly:
The anticipated problems outlined regarding their concerns for the pending JWC in Georgia did not eventuate under the much improved Coaching group lead by newly appointed, Schwalger. The team was well looked after in Georgia under the guidance of Head Coach Mahonri Schwalger and his Management Team.
To suggest the resignation of three staff, including Schwalger is contrary to the opinion of other parents.
What sort of organisation changes the coach so close to a rugby world cup???
It is not ideal to change Coaches so close to a tournament, however, in this case, SRU was left with no alternative and it was imperative for the welfare of our players.
I wish to note that Samoa Rugby Union is far from perfect, we do on rare occasion not meet everyone’s expectation and drop the ball and it’s important that we acknowledge when we err, that it is addressed and learn from it. The upcoming Review of all our Team campaigns is pending and issues noted will be at the forefront of the review with all concerned.
Samoa Rugby Union will continue to make decisions in the best interests of our players, and provide a professional and a safe environment for them to excel and keen to represent Samoa.