An Open Letter To Fiji Rugby Union

PRPW CEO Dan Leo responds to recent comments in the media regarding PRPW's #SeatsAtTheTable campaign - you can download the letter or read the full text below:

 

 

John O’Connor
Chief Executive Officer
Fiji Rugby Union
35 Gordon St, Suva Fiji

 

Dear Mr O’Connor,

I am writing to follow up on the statements attributed to you that were published in the Fiji Times on August 27 [‘FRU criticises Pacific Rugby Players Welfare campaign’]. As you chose to share these matters directly with the media, I will also.

One of the beauties of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare structure is that our funding is independent of the power- and political structures of World Rugby that have done so much to disadvantage the interests of the players, rugby unions and fans of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. 

Because we are self-financing, we can call things as we see them. We campaign without fear and favour, only worrying about the interests of those we represent: the more than 400 Pacific Island rugby players we have as members who compete in the Top 14, Premiership and Celtic leagues, all the way down to National 3 & Fédérale 3. 

As you can see for yourself from our website [www.pacificrugbywelfare.com] our leadership and board include a number of current and former Fiji Test players and our membership is broadly speaking one-third from Fiji.

That independence is priceless to our members: We are in nobody’s pocket – nobody but our members can influence our opinion. 

So when the PRPW takes a view on the disastrous political structure of World Rugby it is not surprising that this ends up being different from, say, the Fiji Rugby Union.

Direct and indirect funding from World Rugby represents perhaps the single largest line item in your accounts [although I note that in recent years all media have been banned from the FRU’s annual and special general meetings and no financial accounts have been released to the media since 2015].

The reason we have now taken a position on the governance injustice of World Rugby [and Rugby World Cup Ltd] is because of what will become obvious to Fijian rugby fans and stakeholders when Fiji commences her Rugby World Cup campaign next year. 

To highlight just a few of the injustices that the governance of RWC Ltd and World Rugby have produced:

  • The 2019 RWC playing schedule gives Fiji 18 days to complete four Test matches in the tournament’s group stages
  • By contrast Fiji’s Tier One opponents, Australia and Wales, will play their four Test matches over a more leisurely 20 days.

You chose to endorse the comments made by the CEO of the Samoa Rugby Union who also questioned the PRPW’s criticism of the entrenched powers that favour the so-called Foundation Unions over Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

  • The 2019 RWC playing schedule gives Manu Samoa 18 days, just like Fiji, to complete four Test matches in the tournament’s group stages
  • By contrast, the Manu’s Tier One competitors – Scotland and Ireland – complete their matches in 21 days

This is a huge advantage that the Unions of Australia, Wales, Scotland and Ireland have given themselves – voting to support one another getting a leg-up over the politically marginalised and under-resourced Tier 2 unions including Fiji, Samoa and Tonga

The PRPW have chosen to take this principled stand because the crisis in World Rugby governance has produced a profound player welfare issue. And that is our business.

Rugby fans of Fiji and Samoa have a legitimate expectation that our members will give 100 percent commitment when representing their national teams. But our members are being given only 80-85 percent of the recovery time of the teams you are expecting us to beat to qualify for the quarterfinals.

Would those Tier 1 sides have accepted this same schedule? I think not.

You appear happy to criticise the work of the PRPW, which is your right. But it is not right that you appear to have so far been curiously silent about the player welfare issues that exist in the lop-sided RWC schedule that your union has gone along with.

I am not sure you can grasp these basic welfare issues as neither you nor your chairman has been a rugby professional or Test player, and because I can’t find a list of your board directors on your website or online, I don’t know if any of them can either.

But think for a second of the calamitous effect on the wife or partner, children and parents, and the extended family unit, if one of our members suffers a long-term injury as a consequence of playing in a tournament that since at least 2003 has systematically handicapped the weakest unions and most vulnerable professionals?

So it is reasonable for me to ask: Has the FRU raised this with World Rugby or RWC Ltd since qualifying in July 2017? [It seems unlikely that the World Rugby-financed management of Oceania Rugby asked these hard questions of World Rugby.]

It may be that you haven’t. It may be that your board have instructed you to make whatever compromises of the FRU’s own sovereignty, free-will and independent agency World Rugby requires in order to secure the solitary Council seat on offer. 

If that is the price you are willing to pay, and the extent to which you will enfeeble Fiji’s claim to the real power she deserves, then so be it.

While we wish you success with that bid, our fear is that one vote (if obtained) is still not enough to challenge the Tier 1 Nations who have recently given themselves 3 votes each. 

Our position is that one vote for a few Tier 2 nations, none for all of the others, while all Tier 1s have a permanent bloc of three votes each is just wrong. It is also not a governance model recognised in any other international federation within the Olympic movement.

The time has come to get off the sidelines and demand what is right and fair. World Rugby may not like what we have to say or choose not to engage with us.

But waiting for scraps and quivering with gratitude is not the way to overhaul a system that has stripped the best from the Pacific and given so little back in return. That is why we chose to stand united as rugby professionals and proud Pacific Islanders, and are happy to look after each other for the common good. 

Please do not continue to ignore doing what is right. As Ben Ryan says, the standard you walk past is the standard you become.

Vinaka


Dan Leo

Director
Pacific Rugby Players Welfare 

NewsMark Sowerby