High hopes for Cooks rugby

Friday June 19, 2020 Written by Published in Rugby Union
Cook Islanders Teariki Ben-Nicholas is playing for the Highlanders this season – but the coronavirus is jeopardising pro contracts. 20061808 Cook Islanders Teariki Ben-Nicholas is playing for the Highlanders this season – but the coronavirus is jeopardising pro contracts. 20061808

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare says island nations are discriminated against in international rugby.

A long-time campaigner for solutions to the sport’s governance problems has spoken out about his frustration at how World Rugby treats Pacific players.

Dan Leo, the founder of Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, said World Rugby had put nearly $40 million into the Pacific over the past for four years, “but where’s that gone?”

He would love to imagine a time when the Pacific Islands nations could get access to their players, he told the Rugby Paper, and start generating income through sponsorship deals and TV

“And then even start developing the next tier of nations like the Cook Islands or Papua New Guinea, but that’s still a very long way off.”

As a first step, he said there should be a Pacific Islands team as part of a new trans-Tasman competition being mooted to replace Super Rugby.

“Of course – it should have happened by now anyway,” he said.

“There’s been talk of a Fiji-based team but all the money seems to be going into European competitions now and unless the Pacific Islands can get close to matching those wages, there’s always going to be a drain of our best players to the north.

“But we need to keep pushing and if there is to be a new trans-Tasman competition, we should definitely be pushing hard to be part of that.”

With the pandemic striking rugby so hard, he said, professional contracts for Pacific Island players would start to dry up and players would be sent home.

“We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg at the moment,” he said. “We’ll see the real impact over the next three or four months as clubs finalise their squads for 2020/21 and beyond.

“But the positive thing is there’s a lot of resilience amongst the Pacific Islands community when it comes to isolation and hardship because a lot of us have been doing that for a long time in terms of being away from home and speaking to our relatives via iPads and Skype.”

Already, two Pacific players in Britain’s Championship had been downgraded from full-time to part-time, with a 50 per cent drop in wages, “so there’s a lot of uncertainty there”.

“We do feel there is racism in rugby because of the systematic procedures that are in place to keep the poor nations poor – and we want to see that change.”

Yesterday, World Rugby announced a governance review process for member nations.

It has promised an investigation into Fiji Rugby Union chair Francis Kean, whose nomination for the powerful executive committee was hastily withdrawn following allegations of homophobia.

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