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How COVID-19 is hitting Pacific players

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare and their Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Leo, are doing what they can to assist players from the islands in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Every major professional rugby union competition in the world has been postponed or suspended because of the situation, with many players forced to self-isolate in their own homes.

Leo said the initial reaction from some of them to an enforced rest period for England’s Premiership Rugby and France’s Top 14 was excitement, given a compacted schedule after the Rugby World Cup has them feeling drained.

“Being like ‘oh this is awesome, we’re not going to have to play, we’re not going to have to train, we’ll get a bit of a break’,” he said.

However the reality of being stuck in their homes on the other side of the world from where they grew up has set in.

“The island boys are very social, and it’s also a lot harder to maintain a good level of fitness and weight,” Leo said, adding that he really feels for the players.

“Particularly some of those guys in the lower leagues, who don’t really know where they stand in terms of their clubs.

“We’ve had contact from guys in places like Belgium, Spain, some of the countries that are in lockdown.”

Daniel Leo encourages everyone to reach out to Pacific Rugby Players Welfare if they need help or information, or to tap into their network across Europe, but said the organisation isn’t in a position to provide financial support to everyone.

Premiership Rugby clubs are cutting their player salaries by 25% in a bid to cut costs and stay afloat without revenue streams from matchday income and television rights.

It’s still unclear when any of the competitions can recommence.

“Hopefully we can get a bit more clarity about where things are going, but it’s just very much taking every day as it comes and living in the now, enjoying it for what it is if you can and stay positive,” Leo said.

“Most of the contracts in England and France end in June, so if the season’s going to be played after that, in July onwards, that brings into question a lot of contractual situations and obligations.

“There’s a lot of work to be done over the next couple of weeks, and unfortunately these things won’t happen quickly but we’re trying to push for them to be decided and discussed as quickly as possible, just for the peace of mind of the players really.”

While Leo understands the pandemic is an unprecedented, unpredictable ‘force majeure’ event, the sustainability of the game and how it operates ought to be questioned.

“I think there’s going to be tough questions asked in the aftermath of this about where the sport is, not just rugby union but all sport,” he said.

“Clubs shouldn’t be having to talk about foreclosure two weeks into a pandemic, I could understand if it was three or four months into it. It just shows that there’s been some bad decisions made at an administration level.”

And Leo said it’s normally islanders that bear the brunt of those mistakes:

“When there’s cutbacks, the first boys they get rid of are the ones that aren’t locals, we’ve seen that and we’ve dealt with that

“We’ve dealt with situations over the last few years where clubs have just folded, and then the next day they’ve started up as new entities, and totally washed their hands of any responsibilities, both financially and moral, to the players, and we’ve had to pick up the pieces.”

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