Uncertain times, precious life should trump dreams of sporting glory
The news from Dubai that the Manu Samoa Sevens team was forced to withdraw from the leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Spain is quite sad but hardly surprising. (Manu Sevens campaign wrecked by COVID-19).
Our thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, are with the 13 players and two members of the management team who have returned positive tests. We also empathise with parents and spouses who must endure the agony and fear of not knowing what to do next, how or when they will get to see their loved ones again.
We acknowledge that it is a difficult situation for everyone involved, including Lakapi Samoa, especially when the players are so far away from home. We can only pray and hope for a speedy recovery and a happy reunion for everyone involved as soon as possible.
What is surprising and disturbing perhaps, and this is in hindsight given the newest development, was the decision to send them in the first place. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t that long ago, just as borders were beginning to shut at the onset of COVID-19, that the Sevens team was making their way home from another tournament in Europe, and ended up being stranded in Dubai. Have we quickly forgotten that drama?
Now given the uncertainty of the pandemic in this day and age, was it really worth the risk sending another team, especially to a part of the world where COVID-19 is running rampant – and with the Omicron variant an added dimension? Aside from winning a rugby tournament, something we have not been able to do in years, what else was there for Samoa to gain? Seriously, what?
No really, these questions must be asked because they could save someone’s life next time around. Let’s put things in perspective. Since Samoa closed its borders to keep the pandemic at bay, the scrutiny applied on who can and cannot travel to and from Samoa for whatever purpose has been extremely heavy and understandably so. The pros and cons for travel are carefully considered, because at a time where we have seen millions of precious lives claimed by the deadly pandemic, it is a fact that Samoans are not COVID-proof.
The message about vaccination is quite clear; a double dosage of COVID-19 jabs does not immune a person from getting the virus. Which means every time a decision is made at the national level for people to travel as Samoa’s representatives, whether it be sports or for whatever reason, we have to assume the worst-case scenario. We are seeing this play out before our very eyes in different arenas.
Last week, the pages of your newspaper revealed that more than a hundred Samoans who are in Australia for R.S.E. work have contracted the virus. The Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour's C.E.O. Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling said the Government is monitoring the cases closely, working with the Australian government and their counterparts. The case they make for Samoan R.S.E. workers – taking the risk of travel to help their families through the income they make – is quite strong. The same goes for sailors and ship workers who have had to travel during the lockdown. Simply put, such remittances are the backbone of the local economy. We desperately need it.
We cannot argue the same thing for risking the health of the Manu Samoa Sevens team in Dubai. There is an eerily different feeling about Samoan workers catching COVID-19 in Australia and a Samoan rugby team being infected somewhere in the Middle East.
For starters, Australia does not feel like it is that far away. And we can be confident in the history and the working relationship between the Samoan Government and its Australian counterpart that if the worst comes to worst, there are bilateral avenues in place to ensure the safety and security of our beloved citizens.
We can hardly say the same thing about the Manu Samoa Sevens team in Dubai. Although Lakapi Samoa has tried its best to assuage fear and assure they are talking to World Rugby about the welfare of players, this doesn’t quite cut it. It is hard to rest easy knowing these sons of Samoa are so far away and their lives are at risk. We are talking about young players; most of them are unemployed and have absolutely no form of income to support themselves. Their families are unlikely to be able to help from here.
Without being too harsh on Lakapi Samoa, let us give them the benefit of the doubt. We sincerely hope they have a back up plan for the welfare of the players and the management team.
That said, let this be a warning to Lakapi Samoa or any other sporting body who are looking at sending teams amidst such turmoil and uncertainty in the world. Is it really worth the risk?
In the case of the Manu Samoa Sevens, it was certainly not. The biggest victory we can now hope and pray for is that all the players make it back home safe and healthy to be reunited with their loved ones. Let’s remember them, and all the sons and daughters of Samoa around the world who have been tested positive for COVID-19 in our prayers.
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