21 Apr 2020

Sport: Rugby welfare group condemns nomination of Fiji's Kean

8:07 pm on 21 April 2020

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare has condemned the nomination of Fiji Rugby Union Chair Francis Kean for a position on World Rugby's powerful Executive Committee.

Fiji Rugby Union Chair Francis Kean, World Rugby Chair Bill Beaumont and Samoa Rugby Union Chair and PM, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi

Fiji Rugby Union Chair Francis Kean, World Rugby Chair Bill Beaumont and Samoa Rugby Union Chair and PM, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi Photo: World Rugby

The former Navy commander, who is already Fiji's representative on the World Rugby Council, was convicted of manslaughter in 2007 and reappointed to his former role upon his release from prison.

Kean, who is the brother-in-law of Fiji's Prime Minister and FRU President Frank Bainimarama, has been Chair of the FRU since 2015.

But in a damning open letter to members of the World Rugby Council, (who will vote next month in elections to the decide the World Rugby Chairman, Vice Chairman and seven appointees to the Executive Committee), CEO of the UK-based Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, Daniel Leo, expressed dismay at the possibility of Kean being elected to the Committee.

World Rugby said on Monday it was investigating allegations of homophobia against Francis Kean that were published in the UK Sunday Times and is currently discussing the matter with the Fiji Rugby Union.

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare CEO, Dan Leo

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare CEO, Dan Leo Photo: Facebook

Kean was elected as Fiji's representative on the World Rugby Council in November 2018 but, in a statement, the governing body distanced itself from the appointment, saying that a place on its council is awarded to a union and not an individual.

Both candidates for World Rugby Chairman, the incumbent Sir Bill Beaumont and current Vice Chair Agustin Pichot, have spoken about reforming eligibility rules which currently restrict players to only representing one country and have seen numerous players of Pacific origin 'poached' by wealthier unions in the Six Nations and Rugby Championship.

Referring to Kean in his open letter, Daniel Leo said it was odd that World Rugby had some of the most elaborate and exhaustive eligibility checks for players but seemingly relaxed rules around who can be in charge of running the sport at the highest level.

"Even when that person couldn't get a visa to watch Fiji in the opening match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup or the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens because of his criminal record for violent killing," he claimed.

Leo said silence towards figures of authority was a big part of culture in the developing world, including the Pacific, and he challenged the World Rugby members to live up to the organisation's ethos.

"If the values of World Rugby really are integrity, respect, solidarity, passion and discipline, all of this - and the claim to have been building character since 1823 - will be utterly debased if Kean is elected to the Exco. It is as simple as that."

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare was founded in 2016 as a non-profit organisation that supported professional and semi-professional players of Pacific Island heritage in the UK and Europe.

Leo, who played 42 tests for Samoa and the Pacific Islanders between 2005 and 2014, said about a third of their 700 members come from Fiji.

"You may have thought as Pacific Islanders, we would fall in line in support of Kean. But it is extraordinary to anyone involved in the game in the Pacific that Kean is even on the ballot."

An excerpt from former Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan's book "Sevens Heaven" hints at Kean's influence in his role as FRU Chairman.

"One morning Kean came to the gym in Suva where I was training the boys…A soldier on either side of him, both in uniform. "Ben, these two men are in your next training squad". I knew I could not face him down but that I could not step back either. OK, they can train with us today."

While promoting his book, Ryan, who led Fiji an Olympic gold medal in 2016, told RNZ that to have a person convicted of manslaughter as chairman of your national union "is not a great sign."

Dan Leo said rugby unions in the Pacific were always being lectured about their own governance but further scrutiny was needed over the governing body and how it administered the sport.

"The tests World and Oceania Rugby applied to Kean and the FRU to allow them to fly so close to the seat of power over these past years show a tick-box culture," he said,

"If nothing else can, this proves that things in the Pacific are not as they seem or as they are measured and represented to you on the Council. The only thing standing in the way of Kean is the good sense of you and your Council members."

The Fiji Rugby Union has yet to respond to requests from RNZ Pacific for comment on the nomination of Francis Keane.

FRU Chairman Commander Francis Kean and Flying Fijians coach John McKee.

Kean, (left), with former Flying Fijians coach John McKee Photo: Supplied / Fiji Rugby Union