Pacific Rugby Players Welfare Warns Samoa Council Announcement Potential World Rugby “Smokescreen”

The Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare group have dismissed the significance of a media report that the Samoa Rugby Union has accepted a seat on World Rugby’s Council, labelling it a potential World Rugby “smokescreen”.

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PRPW’s ‘Seats At The Table’ campaign was launched in August 2018, one of its key objectives: to overturn the much-criticised makeup of rugby’s governing body.

‘While the awarding of Samoa’s Council vote would certainly be a step in the right direction and testament to the campaign, it is certainly not ‘mission complete’ by any stretch of the imagination,’ said PRPW chief executive Dan Leo, the 39-cap Manu Samoa forward.

Radio New Zealand has reported that SRU chair and Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi will occupy Samoa's seat at the next World Rugby Board meeting in May next year.

‘Obviously I wish the Samoa Rugby Union and the Prime Minister well, if this is true, but at the moment, all Tuila'epa is to World Rugby is the “happy-faced islander” that they need to defend a political regime that even the PM knows is absolutely indefensible.’

If Samoa is confirmed that would lift the potential number sitting on Council to 50, according to the World Rugby website.

But at least thirty of those votes are constitutionally guaranteed to belong to representatives of the Tier One unions: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, South Africa, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.

‘World Rugby continues to govern the game like those who found justification in segregation by using the intellectual defence of “separate but equal.”’

‘But the game cannot be equal if the majority of the game’s unions are deliberately separated from the governance process,’ said Leo, who played for the Manu from 2005 to just before the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Leo reiterated that there is no sports body in the Olympic movement that has a constitution weighted like World Rugby that specifically excludes the majority of its members, the developing nations of the so-called Tier Two and Three unions.

‘What the world of sport needs to focus on is that, even if the Samoa news is confirmed, there could still be six Tier Two unions competing at the Rugby World Cup next year who have no seat on the main political body, no vote for the chairmanship and even have no representative on the game’s many committee structures.’

And Leo says bad governance is producing bad sporting outcomes on the field.

‘As a result of this lack of political representation, there is no pushback when RWC organizers effectively handicap these Tier Two countries out of the tournament by giving them a much harder schedule that the richer Tier One unions who have the permanent voting majority,’ said Leo.

Russia, Namibia, Tonga, Fiji, Uruguay and the yet-to-be-confirmed repechage team are the six teams, Leo said. It is known that Fiji has also applied for a World Rugby Council seat.

The PRPW has already raised the alarm that Fiji and Samoa play their four Group Matches in 18 days when their Tier One opponents have, respectively, 20 and 21 days to play the same number of matches.

Fiji needs to beat Australia and Wales to advance to the quarterfinals, while Samoa have Tier One sides Ireland and Scotland in their group.

‘But pity the poor repechage team,’ said Leo, whose PRPW membership includes more than 400 Pacific Island rugby players who compete in the Top 14, Premiership and Celtic leagues.

The repechage tournament features Kenya, Hong Kong, Germany and Canada, with one team advancing to the RWC in the same group as New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and Namibia.

‘By definition the repechage team is the weakest in the whole of the Rugby World Cup yet they have to play their four group matches in 17 days whereas the defending champion All Blacks are given a full three weeks,’ said Leo.

‘How is that justified by an organisation that likes to claim it has been “Building Character Since 1886”?’

NewsMark Sowerby