Players need to be contracted, act now

By The Editorial Board 28 January 2024, 10:00AM

Sports is no longer an amateur field, it is a profession, an employment, and in many of these fields, it comes with contracts. It is only fair that the Manu Samoa sevens players are contracted and paid a salary where all of the employment clauses apply.

Just paying them allowance without superannuation and taxes will not do. Lakapi Samoa needs to get its act together on this issue and not sit around. Our players give their best on and off the field for the country and the sport. Allowances that do not even cover the cost of living will not do.

These players are playing full-time, training when they are required, sticking to the nutrition recommendations and even training on their own in the off-season. Most of these players are thinking of family and meeting their financial obligations but have no way to do this unless they get secondary employment which clashes with their rugby routine.

In 2014 when English coach Ben Ryan took on the task of training the Fiji sevens team, he was faced with the same predicament. Some players were scrounging for bus fares and did not know how their families would get their next meals and the rugby union body’s motive was to win the Olympic Games gold medal two years down the line.

For Ryan, changes were needed. He gave the union an ultimatum that they bring in the changes starting with the contracting of players. The response he was met with was that the union did not have enough money to contract the players but Ryan would not back down. He knew that rugby was a professional sport and when his players were on the World Sevens Series they were up against professional athletes.

The union realising this, got its act together and with sponsorship was able to get players contracted. For the first time, national players were contracted to just play rugby on a full-time basis. This was the beginning of the change, two years down the line, the Fijians created Olympic history by winning the inaugural rugby sevens gold medal, a feat the team repeated in the next Olympic Games as well.

The concept is not new. It can be done and it has been shown. When Manu Samoa sevens players share the pitch at the top locations in the world, they are sharing the pitch with professional athletes who are paid to play. None of the teams that are on the circuit are amateur teams.

The players just want to be employed and receive all the benefits that employees get. They want to have a fixed source of income so they too can support their loved ones. They want to have the superannuation or Samoa National Provident Fund accounts filled and for them to be able to access the services of the superannuation body.

A contract is a two-way deal. It not only obligates Lakapi Samoa to pay the players and comply with the employment laws of the country but it also demands that the players keep up their part of the deal which may include a ban on alcohol and other substances. It will also mean that there will be a means to gauge the performance of players and failure to meet the standards set by the union could easily result in the termination of the contract.

Will a contract make a difference? It certainly will. Players will have the ease of mind that they are employed and making good enough money to provide for their families. This goes a long way to improving the psyche of the players and there will be greater concentration on what used to be just a game. It will now require more than the usual commitment from the players.

We will be able to have professional players in the national side. It will no longer be just a step to contracts with overseas clubs. Players in schools and villages would have an avenue to become professional athletes.

The ball is now in Lakapi Samoa’s court. Will they take the step to improve the game or will they return with the reply that it is just an amateur body? When Lakapi Samoa is invited to be part of World Rugby’s various councils, so much is said but all this means nothing if you cannot look after the most important people involved in the game, the players.

If the current management and executives believe that they cannot go this way, then step aside. It is as simple as that. Allow someone with the vision and drive to achieve this. This is not just for the betterment of the sport or players, this step will improve the nation as well.

Stop thinking about it, take action.

By The Editorial Board 28 January 2024, 10:00AM
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