4 Mar 2019

Sport: 'We're not bluffing' - Pacific rugby players consider RWC boycott

1:50 pm on 4 March 2019

Pacific Island rugby players are considering a motion to boycott this year's World Cup in Japan in protest at the exclusion of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga from a proposed revamp of the international calendar.

The 12-team World League concept would include teams from the European Six Nations teams and Southern Hemisphere's Rugby Championship, as well as Japan and the United States.

But the latest proposal excludes all three major Pacific Island nations and will be locked in place for 12 years with no promotion and relegation.

Jack Lam scored as Samoa made a second half comeback.

Fiji and Samoa are both excluded from the latest World League proposal. Photo: Facebook/Fiji Rugby

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare Director and former Samoa international Dan Leo said World Rugby have shown their true colours.

"Initially I was angry. After that sort of sadness just kicked in really into what the sport has become and it's really the true colours showing through of what the governing body's motivations are," he said.

Former Manu Samoa international Daniel Leo.

Former Manu Samoa international Daniel Leo. Photo: AFP

"How we've moved away from the core rugby values in solidarity, respect, teamwork and moved towards what looks like it's the commercial model, which is sad for the game but sad for the people who love it, myself included.

"Whether you're a Pacific Islander or not, or a tier two fan, the people want to see those countries prosper for the good of the competition of the sport and I think it just shows how out of touch the World Rugby governing body are."

Leo said, even with Fiji and Samoa now represented on the World Rugby Council, Pacific Island nations still lack influence in rugby's higher echelons and are outnumbered at the voting table by tier one nations, especially those in the Northern Hemisphere, who are focused on protecting their own interests.

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare represents 600 mostly Europe-based professional players and is discussing and debating a motion proposed by a group of senior test-playing representatives that members make themselves unavailable for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Dan Leo said "the pinnacle of your career is playing at a World Cup" but players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are very serious about their threat to boycott the upcoming tournament in Japan in response to World Rugby's latest snub.

Tonga's Vungakoto Lilo leads a victory haka after they beat France in 2011.

Tonga famously upset France at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Photosport

"It's the only credible resource that we've got to fall on as poor nations as everybody knows Samoa, Fiji, Tonga don't have the resources or the money to bring to the game in terms of commercial viability," he said.

"What we do have is players en masse - over 25 percent of players at the World Cup will be of Pacific Island heritage and over 20 percent of the world's professional players are of Pacific Island heritage.

"We're a tight-knit bunch and I dare World Rugby to test us on that. We're not bluffing here. This is the reality of the situation - the guys care deeply about this and if things aren't going to change and a stronger model is not presented, if that proposal's not presented, it's going to require serious repercussions.

"Everyone hopes that doesn't have to happen. The pinnacle of your career is playing at a World Cup but we're talking about the future of Pacific Island rugby here and the next generation," he said.

"If players now didn't make a stand and be brave and make that stand then there might not be a next generation of players who get to play for Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. We're in the process of discussing that and educating the players around that decision and the impact of that."

Leo said comments from World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper on Twitter, in which he labelled much of the media coverage as inaccurate, said Pacific Island national "will not be excluded from (the world) league", as "back-tracking".

Former Argentina captain Agustin Pichot has been vocal in his support for tier two nations since being elected World Rugby vice chair in 2016 but Leo does not believe his words have been matched by actions.

"The actions haven't come through, haven't come to fruition, and that's what I'm pretty disappointed about," he said.

"It's easy to talk up a good game but really, from our point of view, he's looked after Argentina. Now he sits as the vice chairman for rugby as a representative for the USA, which we believe is a conflict of interest, and trying to push America's best interest."

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare are also in the process of speaking to the Fiji, Samoa and Tonga Rugby Unions and asking them to back the players stance by refusing to send teams to the World Cup.

Dan Leo said the boycott motion is before the PRPW Board and will be voted on in due course.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs