Political interference, poor management allowed at S.R.U.: report

The Pacific Rugby Players Welfare group says World Ruby is allowing corruption, political interference and poor oversight to fester across the Pacific, including at the Samoa Rugby Union, undermining countries' international performance. 

In an exhaustive 59-page document, the Veilomani Report, released this week Fiji, Samoa and Tonga’s rugby unions come under attack because of World Rugby’s undermining their ability to “compete in the modern game”. 

On the Samoa Rugby Union (S.R.U.), the report alleges that Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi’s role as Chairman amounts to state interference which is incompatible with the game’s bylaws and the basic principles of the Olympics. 

The blistering document describes the game’s international administrators as complicit in the governance failures of Pacific unions.

“Veilomani is the Fijian term for loving one another and working together constructively,” P.R.P.W. said.

“P.R.P.W. believes that this is exactly what global rugby now desperately needs, to heal a sport being pulled in too many different directions.”

The players’ contribution to a review of World Rugby’s governance comes after incumbent president Sir Bill Beaumont edged out Argentinian challenger, Agustin Pichot for the game’s top job.

Sir Bill won the election 28-23 but the voting did not reflect the closeness of an election marred by several controversial episodes.  Pichot had been running on a platform of upending the game’s power structures, including the widening gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations. 

P.R.P.W. says that in the past ten years S.R.U. has been accused of misusing funds, selling team kit for private profit and falsely declaring bankruptcy. World Rugby deied that claim at the time.

Tuilaepa’s statements and actions on homosexuality, including maintain a ban on sexual activity between men and presiding over the Government which had movies with gay storylines banned from screening, may amount to serious misconduct, P.R.P.W. says. 

“World Rugby’s acceptance of [Tuilaepa] onto the Council, and its failure to take action to address the associated issues of integrity makes it complicit in the S.R.U.’s poor governance and, P.R.P.W. submits, places it in breach of the bylaws.”

They make similarly serious allegations of political interference and corruption of the leadership in Fiji and Tonga’s rugby unions and accuse World Rugby of ignoring the issues and not effectively enforcing their bylaws on such issues.

In a phone call with the Samoa Observer, Pacific Rugby Players (the World Rugby funded players association) founding Board Member Seilala Mapusua said he doesn’t believe it is World Rugby’s mandate or job to tell any rugby union how to operate. 

“No one can come in and tell a country or a body how to run their organisation,” he said.

Asked whether World Rugby could tell a union who should or should not hold their leadership positions, Mapusua demurred. 

“I don’t think it’s their job but they do have a massive influence on the game globally. So it’s working with unions, not telling them what to do,” he said. 

P.R.P.W. goes on to say that if Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji’s rugby unions were better run they would be able to generate more money, become more credible and compete seriously, accusing World Rugby of intentionally frustrating those aspirations.

“If these Unions were better governed, they would be able to generate more funds for themselves, ensuring that they could afford to properly implement modern governance structures and rely less on public funding, thus minimising the interference of state authorities and enhancing their integrity,” the statement says. 

“World Rugby has thus allowed the essential value of Fair Play to be eroded within international rugby by accepting the significant inequality in governance between Member Unions.”

Rather than asking any of the unions to be suspended from World Rugby membership, P.R.P.W. asks that World Rugby sets higher governance standards and works closely with unions to enforce them. 

In a statement released last week, World Rugby defended its position on governance and its contributions to the Governance Review and undertakings to change. 

“World Rugby is an advocate of the promotion of best-practice governance structures in sport as evidenced by the recently published A.S.O.I.F. [Association of Summer Olympic International Federations] report on international federation governance which has independently reviewed World Rugby’s governance and ranked World Rugby as a top-performing federation,” the governing body said. 

“Reflecting this commitment, World Rugby continually reviews its decision-making structures and is currently undertaking a governance review which is being independently chaired by Sir Hugh Robertson and features player representatives appointed by International Rugby Players on the working group."

“The review scope includes examining the criteria for a fit and proper person test for elected members.”

World Rugby also intimated that it does not recognize the P.R.P.W. as a representative body for Pacific players.

“Furthermore, World Rugby only recognises International Rugby Players as the global representative body for players,” it stated.

“Within its structures, players from the Pacific Islands are represented via Pacific Rugby Players.”

In response, P.R.P.W. published a statement on Friday, alleging that the organisations’ World Rugby say they will work with exclusively are actually funded by World Rugby and face a conflict of interest that prevents them from speaking out. 

“If World Rugby insist on hearing only the views of those player organisations that they fund and therefore effectively control, that is a sad indictment of how they envisage an independent-led governance review should operate,” they state.

“It highlights their lack of self-awareness about how poorly served the game’s stakeholders are by the lack of fair play and equality for all in today’s World Rugby status quo.  

“P.R.P.W. does not consider it necessary to be recognised formally, nor to be funded, by World Rugby in order to submit its concerns to the independent-led review.”

Mapusua rejected any accusations that his organisation could not be straight with World Rugby over issues concerning Pacific players. 

“I personally take that quite seriously and I do think it’s unfair,” he said.

“Yes, we receive funding from World Rugby to run our professional development programmes for our players. It’s not paying coaches, we are not on world rugby salaries and there is no money going in pockets.

“We have very healthy debates and we don’t agree with World Rugby all the time, which is why we are at those tables doing what we can for our players.”

He said of the allegations made against the Pacific unions’ governance practices, the P.R.P. has not heard any such claims first hand, nor can he verify the claims made in the Veilomani Report.

“As an official players association we have not come across [those claims] yet. If any of the players were to raise this with us we would seriously look into these allegations,” he said. 

“If they are true and proven that is something we do need to have a good hard look at.”

The Veilomani Report is the organisation’s submission to the World Rugby independent governance review led by Sir Hugh Robertson, Chairman of the British Olympic Association.

Among other allegations it details several high profile issues that P.R.P.W. accuses World Rugby of either not investigating fully or publically: reported vote buying for the recent election, the appointment and allegedly corrupt practices of Francis Kean as F.R.U. Chair, and unfair match programming.

Francis Kean, who is President Frank Bainimarama’s brother in law, was formerly Fiji’s representative on the official global rugby governing council, until it was revealed that he had previously been convicted of manslaughter. 

The submission calls out World Rugby council membership and challenges the council’s integrity and fairness of votes, challenging the Executive Committee members’ independence and diversity.

It also asks whether the Rugby World Cup, the world’s premier rugby tournament, is transparent enough; is fair in its match schedule; and whether it deals with conflicts of interest, accusing World Rugby of allowing potentially conflicted board appointments to have control over match scheduling. 

In its statement, World Rugby hit back the allegations of vote-buying in the election. 

“World Rugby strongly refutes unsubstantiated and erroneous claims made by Pacific Rugby Players Welfare and their C.E.O. Dan Leo regarding voting influence within the international federation’s recent election process and other governance matters,” it states.

“World Rugby is completely satisfied that the 2020 chairperson election was undertaken in accordance with a robust process with Sir Bill Beaumont elected in a fair and appropriate manner.”

The organisation, founded by former Manu Samoa lock Dan Leo, also alleges that Tuilaepa’s record on gay players is inconsistent with World Rugby bylaws on discrimination. He has called on the international body to appoint an officer to investigate.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa and S.R.U. Chief Executive Officer Faleaomavaega Vincent Fepuleai have been approached for comment. 


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