'Despicable’ abuse of young Pacific talent is huge stain on game
It is World Rugby’s responsibility to fix this issue, to uphold your own regulations, to punish the miscreants, and to give Fiji rugby a meaningful voice so that the best people in the country (not the worst) are attracted to the board to provide the future that the game in this country
so richly deserves
World Rugby House
8-10 Pembroke Street Lower
Dublin 2, Ireland
By email email@example.com
Copy: Dominic Rumbles
Head of Communications
By email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr Chairman
As you well know there are a number of French rugby clubs that have opened academies in Fiji. These French club academies have the expressed purpose of scouting for talent, shaping that talent in Fiji, and then harvesting the pick of the crop for shipping to France for further development in their own academy systems, with the dangling carrot of possible professional contracts.
As you also know, this conduct is expressly prohibited under World Rugby Regulations. And yet it continues.
The unlawful behaviour of the French Clubs and the sanctioning of that unlawfulness by Fédération française de rugby begs the question of World Rugby:
1) When are you going to stop this?
2) Why have you not stopped this before?
3) What are you going to do to stop this now?
4) How grave and immediate will be the punishments handed down to the clubs and the FFR?
5) And what compensation can be offered to the Fiji Rugby Union and its stakeholders for the talent-stripping that has taken place to date?
The behaviour of the French clubs has never been a secret in either Fiji or France, nor throughout the rest of the rugby world.
Below is a link to an article first published in January 2015’s Rugby World, and re-posted on the eve of the Rugby World Cup. The article quotes Fiji’s 7s coach Ben Ryan (whose team won the 2014/2015 HSBC World 7s Series) and Fiji’s former captain and current Fiji assistant coach Mosese Rauluni. Both expressed their grave concern about the very great dangers in what is wholly unregulated, large-scale trafficking of players between Fiji and France, with the active involvement of the French Embassy in Suva. There is a counter-balancing quote from former Fiji rep Sisa Koyamaibole who has set up one such academy in Fiji on behalf of French club Brive and speaks about Brive’s intentions.
Mosese Rauluni: “French sides can bring in any number of Fijians to academies, and because they are not officially in the first-team squad they aren’t classed as ‘overseas’. These ‘academies’ do not bring in any resources, they are not adding to the coaching on the islands. They are just about talent identification for the big sides and if they say anything else they are pretending.”
Ben Ryan: “Family is a big thing for Pacific Islanders: they want to look after their family in the village. So if they can send back money and live on as little as £1k a month, they won’t think about it. Then these French guys are starting to poach players as young as 15.”
You will be aware, as the longest serving member on the World Rugby Council as well as the body’s chairman, such conduct by French Clubs and the failure of the FFR to regulate their clubs’ action is a very serious breach of World Rugby’s Regulations.
I have included a link, below, to the 2015 World Rugby online handbook which includes the Regulations in detail. You need to look at Page 80, Regulation 4, Section 1 – Guidelines for Unions on the Development of Young Players, Part C – Licensed Training Centre, 2nd paragraph.
The relevant paragraph is straight forward and unequivocal:
Rugby Bodies or Clubs may only operate or arrange to have operated Licensed Training Centres and/or conduct other development, training or playing programme within the geographical boundaries of the Union to which the Rugby Body or Club is affiliated.
This unequivocal point is further amplified in Section 2 of Regulation 4, Part C ‘Prohibitions’, points 8, 9, 10 and 11.
The World Rugby Regulations that you helped to frame make clear (2.1.1) that all Unions are assumed to have knowledge of these regulations and that all Unions must both educate their members (i.e clubs) about the regulations and enforce these rules.
This places the Fédération française de rugby and any such French Clubs participating in such schemes in absolute and uncontestable breach of the World Rugby Regulations. For the FFR this would be a very grave matter as one of World Rugby’s ‘Foundation Unions’ and would necessarily invoke Bye-law 7 ‘Binding Agreement’ of World Rugby’s Regulations.
The link between French clubs like Clermont and Brive and Fiji is not secret and is conducted out in the open, with press conferences and media statements.
You may well ask why is Fijileaks writing to the chairman of World Rugby to intervene in this matter and not the Fiji Rugby Union.
Firstly, it is well understood that Fiji has no voice within World Rugby circles let alone any power to take on Foundation Unions like the FFR.
This is most obviously seen in our complete lack of representation on either the World Rugby Council or the Executive Committee, Rugby World Cup Ltd or any of the World Rugby committees. That lack of voice was why Fiji was not even consulted, let alone given the opportunity to protest, the schedule for the RWC. Putting aside the controversial issue of turn-around times, this absence of representation meant that Fiji v Wales was okayed to be played in Cardiff in a tournament actually hosted by England (likewise fellow Tier 2 team Uruguay’s game against Wales was approved for the Millennium Stadium). By contrast, John O’Neill of Australia, representing a Foundation Union on Rugby World Cup Ltd’s board and with advance notice of the RWC schedule, was able to force a change of venues in defence of the Wallabies’ best interests. And as a result of his direct intervention, the Wales v Australia Group A match was moved from Cardiff to Twickenham (see The Times report August 13 2015 ‘Rivals Denied Telling Voice’).
Secondly, Fijileaks has no confidence in the credibility the Fiji Rugby Union board to act in the best interests of Fiji rugby, since it has been hijacked by Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama, the 2006 military coup leader.
Sadly the International Rugby Board/World Rugby have been complicit in Bainimarama’s takeover of the FRU (albeit unwittingly) since the five-point peace plan brokered by the-then IRB in February 2011. The key element of this peace plan was the IRB accepting that the democratically elected and constitutionally mandated board of directors would be forced to step down and the board-appointed CEO forced to resign, as the price of Fiji rugby receiving approx. £1m in 2011 Rugby World Cup preparation funds from Bainimarama’s unelected and unlawful military regime.
This is a report on the supposed peace plan that the IRB brokered, which the IRB’s then chief executive said it ‘was delighted’ with:
Since the IRB-approved coup against the FRU board, there have been three chairmen but only one has actually been elected to the board by FRU delegates at an AGM, and he was a direct subordinate of Bainimarama himself: Lt Col Mosese Tikoitoga was FRU chairman from 2011-2013 while also being the Land Force Commander with a direct report to Bainimarama as Military Commander.
The FRU chairman from 2013-2015 Filimone Waqabaca was appointed directly to the FRU board by Bainimarama himself (as the PM’s nominee). Waqabaca was Bainimarama’s permanent secretary at the Ministry of Finance all of the time he was FRU chairman and so, again, completely under the sway of the coup-leader. The current chairman of the FRU is Francis Kean, also appointed directly to the board by Bainimarama, who is married to Kean’s sister. He replaced Bainimarama as Fiji’s Commander Navy and is now, also, a permanent secretary.
None of these chairmen had or have the ability, curiosity, charisma or rugby pedigree to even attend IRB/World Rugby functions such as the 2013 IRB general assembly in Dublin. In addition, the current chairman, Francis Kean, was charged with murder in 2007 after kicking and beating a man to death at a family wedding. Eventually Kean pled guilty to manslaughter and served 18 months in prison, and so is only able to travel to countries that do not require a visa for a Fiji citizen.
Thirdly, the consequence of the IRB/World Rugby’s tacit approval of the 2011 coup has been to precipitate a complete collapse of any sense of integrity amongst board members, who are either looking out for the interests of the country’s Prime Minister or looking out for themselves – certainly not interested in looking out for the interests of Fiji rugby, as articulated by Ben Ryan and Mosese Rauluni.
One of the directors voted onto the board of the FRU in April 2011, following the IRB-forced resignation of the previous board, was financier Napolioni Batimala. He would serve four years and one month on the FRU board as Director, Finance before being voted off earlier this year. His LinkedIn profile makes clear that in addition to his day job and his FRU board commitments, he also found time to set up a company to act as a player agent for Fijians looking to break into French rugby.
His LinkedIn profile makes this boost:
‘Also run a sports consulting agency as a hobby by marketing talented Fijian rugby players overseas. Specialise in French market. Realise fiji have wonderful talented players who have capability to play at professional level.’
When Batimala’s sideline business was finally revealed two years into his tenure on the FRU board it caused uproar with major provincial unions calling on him to step down or be forced to resign which he was able to bat away, and was returned unopposed for another two-year term.
In a 2013 Facebook discussion, former Fiji captain Simon Raiwalui, now coaching in France, was scathing about Batimala’s actions and direct conflict of interest:
‘To start off regarding [Batimala’s company’s] position within the FRU they should have nothing to do with the placement of Fijian players overseas, let alone make money from it. These are the same guys telling the press overseas based players are ruining Fijian rugby, while at the same time making money from placing Fijian players overseas! Not only are "some Fijian boys in France got ripped off by this agency" but they have also tried to claim money from players that they have done absolutely nothing for.’
The lawyer in charge of looking out for the FRU’s best legal interests and using World Rugby’s regulations relating to member unions and clubs operating in another member union’s territory is Carl Ngamoki-Cameron – the FRU’s Director Legal since 2011, and now also serving as the FRU’s deputy chairman.
His fitness to act on behalf of the FRU was called into question, in the opinions of many people, when he was stripped of his chairmanship and directorship of Fijian Holdings Ltd, one of only 16 stocks traded on the local exchange. Ngamoki-Cameron’s forced departure – believed to be the first ever of a South Pacific Stock Exchange-traded company - followed a ‘special audit’ of the company but the full details of this were never released.
Leadership from the likes of Francis Kean and Carl Ngamoki-Cameron is why the issues raised by Ben Ryan and Mosese Rauluni and many others simply cannot be handled from the Fiji Rugby Union end. Moreover World Rugby’s structure has given the FRU no voice in matters directly affecting Fiji rugby, and it has sanctioned a takeover of the leadership of the FRU that has resulted in a collapse of ethics, integrity and vision.
It is World Rugby’s responsibility to fix this issue, to uphold your own regulations, to punish the miscreants, and to give Fiji rugby a meaningful voice so that the best people in the country (not the worst) are attracted to the board to provide the future that the game in this country so richly deserves.