There should be a proper investigation into the death of Faiva Tagatauli

The death of Faiva Tagatauli is a real tragedy. The 27-year-old father of one died at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital from a suspected head injury during a club rugby competition at Tuana’imato two Saturdays ago.

There is no doubt this is the sort of incident nobody wants. Indeed, men and women do not play rugby to die.

For the majority of club rugby players in Samoa, where there is no money involved, rugby is a form of recreational activity. It is part of their health and fitness regime, which is great when everything goes well. 

But let’s not kid ourselves here; rugby is a serious contact sport, a dangerous one at that too. It is especially dangerous when care is not taken by teams, officials, organisers and players in these competitions to ensure safety. 

Whether Tagatauli had a pre-existing health condition, and whether the game contributed to it, we don’t know. All we’ve been told is that within less than 10 minutes from fulltime, he left the field and collapsed on the sideline.

He never recovered and he died a few days later.

Vaimoso Rugby Union Team Manager Tauiliili Polito Vili said:  “The ambulance staff attended to Faiva and worked on him for some time, before he was taken to the hospital. Faiva was taken to the emergency at Motootua, and after x-rays, a visiting neurologist performed surgery on him.

“The result of the x-rays showed that there was internal bleeding on the right side of the brain, and the doctors said that it was lucky we were able to get him to the hospital on time.”

At this point, we want to say that the tragedy of Tagatauli’s death is a sobering reminder about the need for Samoa to step up its game – when it comes to issues of safety. Needless to say, this is the latest tragedy in a string of incidents where players get injured – some of them terminal – at these rugby games across the country. Many of these injuries are not reported for one reason or another. Maybe players just accept it and live with the consequences.

It shouldn’t have to be that way. Rugby should be governed by proper occupational safety and health laws – just like everything else in Samoa. We say this because there are laws for everything, especially with regards to safety and protecting lives. Why are there no laws to prevent tragedies and terminal injuries at rugby games? Given the frequency and the high number of Samoans who play rugby, this should be given some serious thought.

That said, since the news broke of Tagatauli’s passing, a couple of eyebrow-raising interviews have been published on the pages of this newspaper.

Take for example one where Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Rugby Union, Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i said the tragedy is “a wake-up call for everybody.”

“Do not take anything for granted around that area,” he said. “The game has become faster and more physical over the last 10 years or so, the contacts are more intense.”

He said this is responsible for an increasing number of injuries.

“It’s up to the coaches to prioritise the welfare of the players over the team. We encourage all the teams around the country to make sure they source a volunteer who is qualified to be on standby, to make sure the minimum standard of care is there initially.” 

We accept the Samoa Rugby Union does not have the resources, expertise and the manpower to cover all games across the country. We also accept that when it comes to club and village rugby, we are donkey years behind in terms of safety and proper care. 

But this shouldn’t stop the Samoa Rugby Union – and the Government for that matter – from doing their part to ensure the safety of players. 

And what is that you might ask? Well it’s simple, why don’t they come up with a law that says if there are no first aiders present at the game; that they cannot play. It’s that simple. Safety should always be paramount. Far too many people get injured from these games, when there are no paramedics present.

Secondly, there should be a special committee, which inspects the fields where these games are played. Apart from a couple of fields in Apia, the condition of some of the fields around the country are extremely dangerous – if not deadly. This is a recipe for disaster and we’ve seen the outcome.

Getting back to the death of Tagatauli, two of the most important questions that should be asked are: if the Red Cross was there, could they have perhaps helped to save his life? But given the fact they were not there, why are these games allowed to continue without paramedics?

If anything, the death of Tagatauli is a timely reminder about the importance of safety for all sports in Samoa – especially heavy contact sports like rugby. There should be a proper and thorough investigation to find out what happened to Tagatauli, so the lessons from his death can be used to avoid similar incidents in the future. 

At this point we want to extend our deepest condolences to Tagatuli’s family, his wife, child and everyone affected by his passing. We pray for peace and comfort during what must obviously be a very difficult time.

Have a wonderful Tuesday Samoa, God bless! 

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