21 Apr 2016

Mental health a focus for Pacific rugby initiative

8:04 am on 21 April 2016

The importance of off-field support for Pacific Island rugby players is being emphasised in a new initiative that includes career, financial and mental health education.

More than 600 Pacific Island players currently play professional rugby across the world, and the new Player Personal Development Programme aims to give these players greater support.

US$455,000 is being invested into the programme in Fiji, which is to be piloted for three years.

Josh Blackie from the International Rugby Players' Association.

Josh Blackie from the International Rugby Players' Association. Photo: Photosport

The Pacific Island Players Association General Manager, Josh Blackie, said the initiative was primarily around the holistic support of players off the field, and financial education is an important part of this.

"What we're seeing is young, talented athletes - one day they're in a village environment and the next day they're being thrust into an international rugby environment in places like Paris, London, Tokyo," he explained.

Mr Blackie said that having to cope with the expectation and other issues around being a professional rugby player was sometimes a bit overwhelming.

"The main driver from us is making sure that there is an avenue of support and education for these guys."

He added that mental health had also been an issue for some, and they want to teach players their identity is made up of more than just their sporting prowess.

He said they want to support players to build up other aspects of their life, which will help with healthy living, and the more that can be promoted, the better off players are when they finish their rugby careers.

"We're not hiding away from the fact that no matter how prepared guys are, that mental health space is a difficult one and it's something a lot of guys struggle with, and it is a broad spectrum of issues. So it's just having more awareness, and the ability for the guys to seek support when they need it."

Josh Blackie said additional funds will be allocated later in the year to run programmes in Samoa and Tonga.

The programme will provide support in five key development areas which include career and education, financial, family and culture and professional rugby and personal development.

There will be a full time personal development manager based in Fiji who will work across the various elite teams in Fiji rugby, inclduing the men and womens Sevens teams, the Flying Fijians, Fijian Warriors and the under 20s team.

The funding comes from the support of the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, World Rugby, Digicel, the NZ Rugby Players Association and Massey University.