Leo’s fight for rugby justice: “The Tier system is holding us back”

Former Manu Samoa captain, Daniel Leo, is on a crusade. 

He believes it is critical to educate the Pacific Island community about rugby players' welfare.

As the Samoa Rugby Union prepares to submit an application for a seat on the World Rugby Council (W.R.C.), Leo wants people to know the realities of the rugby world.

Based in London, the man with roots in Falefa, is the C.E.O. of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (P.R.P.W.), an organization representing the interests of nearly 400 professional and semi-professional rugby players of Pacific Island heritage.

“The PRPW has taken up the issue of Pacific Island representation on the WRC in a campaign called Seats At The Table, saying island nations are kept back from fair representation." 

In the Council, Oceania Rugby casts two votes on behalf of 12 island nations, including New Zealand and Australia who also have three votes each for themselves.

Leo said not only is two votes not enough in a Council of 49 members, but Oceania Rugby cannot accurately represent such a diverse group of nations.

Without more votes, interests of pacific rugby players are consistently overlooked. 

Leo says this keeps them in Tier 2 competitions without a chance to advance. This is exemplified in the standards of player welfare.

“At Rugby World Cup next year, Tier 2 teams will get less turnaround time between games than Tier 1 teams,” said Leo. “Those top teams get 20 days between pool games, when Tier 2 teams like Samoa and Fiji get 18.”

Those two extra days between matches make a crucial difference at a higher level of competition, said Leo, so Tier 2 teams are just always more tired.

Not only that, but island nations never host tournaments. Instead they travel as far as the United Kingdom or Europe to compete.

“Never having a home advantage has a logical reflection on results.” 

Financially this has an impact as well, he said. 

“In international rugby, the hosting teams take 100% of the profit made in a home game” said Leo.

He said he would like to see countries sharing the gate takings, especially with less wealthy countries.

“At the moment the tier system is holding us back, there is no dispensation afforded to the tiers. 

“We think if the system is going to be there, then the Tier Two nations should have an advantage off the field and the system should be conducive to the development of the sport.”

For now, he said, the Tier system simply maintains the current status quo of Pacific rugby players succeeding on behalf of Tier 1 nations, with no economic benefit going to their home countries thanks to the laws of international rugby.

The W.R.C. maintains an eligibility rule stating players may not play for more than one union in their career.

Promising Pacific rugby players are often recruited to play for Australia or New Zealand at young ages, complete their schooling in those countries before representing them professionally abroad.

The player eligibility rules mean those players cannot later return to their home countries to play for them instead.

“Basically, we provide the most professional rugby players to the world,” said Leo.

“The other nations worry if they give us access we’ll beat them. 

“With those increased results comes more momentum to drive bids for increased seats at the table so it’s a way of keeping us down.”

 Rugby is a progressive sport, said Leo, and should eradicate the system which brackets nations and people into class status. 

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