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Samoa seeks help to save its rugby from plunder


Samoa Rugby Union

Samoa seeks help to save its rugby from plunder

Samoa has appealed to the IRB for help to save its domestic rugby.

The Samoa Rugby Union (SRU), and we believe those of Fiji and Tonga, are in a desperate financial state due to the impact of professional rugby and the inability of the International Rugby Board (IRB) to find solutions.

As a result of the steadily worsening conditions, SRU is being forced to consider withdrawing from the IRB test schedule and taking up an amateur status. The decision may, in fact, be taken out of Samoan hands as the union itself may no long be viable after this year's World Cup.

Samoa seeks support of Pacific nations to make rugby union an amateur sport that can be competed for, at that level, in the Olympics.

"Rugby in Samoa belongs to the People and everyone enjoys and supports the game," SRU chairman and Prime Minister Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said.

"Players cover all walks of life and rugby is very strong in the villages. The limits of the game are only restricted by the size of Samoa's economy which as a small island developing state is miniscule to that of the great rugby playing nations of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England and France."

He noted Pacific Island rugby had made an awesome if little recognised contribution to world rugby.

SRU's chief executive officer Philipp Muller said that many of Samoa's players had, up until recently been contracted to overseas unions with professional players all over the world. But professional rugby was resulting in richer and more powerful unions luring players even from countries like South Africa and New Zealand. As a result these unions were now squeezing out Pacific Island players, particularly in the Super 12 and National Provincial Championship competition. Without access to Samoa's best players Manu Samoa cannot be competitive and will revert to being purely amateur anyway.

Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Cook Islands have their players exposed to club rugby in both Australia and New Zealand and are easily recruited into those systems. Once they accept professional contracts which may force them into being available for Australia or New Zealand, these players are no longer available to the Island countries.

"Rugby represents an employment opportunity for Pacific players and few Island union administrators would contemplate any form of restriction of trade for players in their chosen field."

Mr Muller said they were worried that the IRB was now focused on the interests of the rich unions and was failing to aid the growth of rugby union globally.

He noted that FIFA had successfully taken soccer into Africa and Asia, ensuring that the less wealthy nations of the world had a part to play in that code. Rugby union has a problem in that even now, ahead of the Rugby World Cup, the winner will be among one of four leading nations; other unions effectively have no possibility of winning the competition.

Given this and the inability to fund it, Samoa is being forced toward a decision to withdraw from the IRB Test programme. The problem with the Test programme is that nations like Samoa are being expected to travel around the world to play at venues where we receive no share of the gate or the television revenues. If other Test sides come to Samoa our small population as well as high local accommodation and travel costs, means the Samoan Rugby Union will always make a heavy loss. Lack of resources rule out television transmissions. The small economic base also mean that Samoa cannot hope to attain enough sponsorship to cover the costs.

"If money is so strongly influencing world rugby and IRB are not able to find solutions something must be done to preserve the game in the 'poorer' countries," Mr Muller said.

"To create a level playing field the advantages of professional rugby should be removed from international competition. It is suggested that a world championship for amateur rugby players be created which eventually could see rugby re-admitted to the Olympics as an amateur sport and could be the global competition for all 'poor' countries to aim at on an equal footing."

In an amateur game the Pacific Islands could easily hold their own and there would be added incentives for Island based players which in turn would provide revitalization to the Island competitions. Island based heroes and role models will help local development and inter island competitions would allow interest and growth in rugby.

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