Following Rugby World's recent trip to the Pacific Islands, we celebrate the importance of the game in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – and highlight the running battles taking place off the pitch
Pacific Islands Rugby Special Report: Player Power
Aayden Clarke, chief executive of PRP, has a Facebook message saved on his phone. It appears to be from a club in Hong Kong offering a significant salary as well as flights and accommodation.
He knows of several players who’ve received it but also knows it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. One of Clarke’s biggest challenges is educating players and their families, for they will often be involved in decisions, about this type of underhand approach via social media and email, as well as rogue agents.
One Fiji player mentions in passing that he’s always had concerns about his contract given it’s in French. There are rumours of agents taking huge chunks of a player’s salary as commission – way more than 50% – or they might have surprise clauses in their contracts.
PRP recently added three Player Relationship Managers based in Europe to their organisation. Gaylene Osborne Finekaso is there to help in Fiji while Junior Fatialofa will look after UK-based islanders and Joe Rokocoko and Marion Salvaudon, a lawyer, are in France.
“We need to educate players on what to expect from an agent, what power he has and you have,” says former All Black Rokocoko.
Horne adds: “A player might get offered an academy contract for €1,000 a month in Europe, the family look at the foreign exchange and it might be two or three times what he earns at home. But in reality after food and board that’s not much. Players get promised deals that sound great but they might not be able to fulfil the obligations of the contract and that’s when issues start.”
As well as providing assistance with any contract queries, the PRP team are there to support and mentor players as they settle into new environs. Ex-Tonga international and PRP chairman Hale T-Pole says: “We have to engage players so they come to us when they have a problem and we can help solve it.”
For example, PRP checked a contract when one player was told by his club he couldn’t join up with the Samoa team in June and assured him there would be no repercussions if he did. Yet T-Pole is concerned some players are going to be pressured into missing the World Cup by their clubs.
Regulation Nine is supposed to protect the sanctity of international rugby and ensure players are released for Test windows, but if players are threatened with pay cuts or missing out on a contract extension they may withdraw from their national squads so they can continue to support their families. After all, rugby careers are short and Tier Two players will not get the same financial compensation as those from the top nations for that long World Cup period. It’s a big call to lose money to represent your country.
“I understand that clubs are trying to protect their assets and they’re going to be without players for weeks, but we don’t want them to hold players back from the World Cup,” says T-Pole.
“We’re already hearing of some players being told, ‘We’ll give you an extra £20,000 in your contract but you have to stay here’. Players are worried about what might happen, so we’re aware of the risk and hopefully World Rugby will look at it. We want to make sure all the top players are there for the Pacific Islands.”
Clarke is pleased to see more players speak out: “We’ve worked hard to educate guys that they’re more powerful than they think. They should be asking questions and wanting transparency.”
On Lam’s first Samoa call-up, he was given this advice by Seilala Mapusua: “Expect the unexpected.” That’s exactly what you want on the pitch from Pacific Islanders, and so often we see that, but more stability would be welcomed off it. Below is what we think would help…
- THE ACTION PLAN
- Gate-share agreements with Tier One countries. This doesn’t need to be a 50-50 split, but 15-20% of the ticket sales would make a huge difference.
- Stringent regulation of agents globally.
- More home Tests and more matches against Tier One sides. The 2020-32 global calendar is a good start.
- A moratorium the year before every World Cup that allows any player who has won fewer than ten caps for a Tier One nation, hasn’t played Test rugby for three years and is eligible
to represent a Pacific Island to switch allegiance to Fiji, Samoa or Tonga.
- Add Samoa and Tonga A teams to the National Rugby Championship in Oz.
- A World Rugby-backed Pacific Islands franchise to be introduced to Super Rugby. It needs to be independent from the three national unions and focus on bringing though local players.
- A review of Regulation Nine and how it could be better enforced.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of Rugby World magazine. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know your views on Pacific Islands rugby.
Follow Rugby World on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.