"A year later, 2012, and Bainimarama's son-in-law Sale Sorovaki was made U20 coach and the team’s ranking collapsed from 6th to 11th"
The Vodafone Fiji U20 team, which represents the pipeline of the next generation of Fijian rugby superstars, have had a catastrophic World Cup and a simple analysis shows that Bainimarama and his gun-toting goons have to shoulder much of the blame.
The U20 side are currently in the second tier World Rugby U20 competition, an 8-team tournament being played in Portugal at the moment. Based on results at this tournament, they were hoping to be promoted back into the top tier of the 12 best nations, (where they were until Frank Bainimarama took over the FRU in 2011 with a government-backed coup against the elected board).
But the very same day that Vodafone boss Pradeep Lal was bragging to local media how Bainimarama favourite phone company had transformed Fiji rugby through their sponsorship, his Vodafone-backed U20 lost to Uruguay at the World Rugby U20 by 26 points to 28. That followed a dismal thrashing by Georgia 30-13 when the Fiji team looked absolutely bewildered, as if playing the sport for the first time. Only an opening round win over Portugal saved Fiji from the humiliating possibility of being relegated into the third tier.
So Fiji’s final match will be an embarrassing playoff with Namibia for 5th place honours in a competition only made up of eight teams.
According to World Rugby statistics, Georgia and Uruguay have less than 12,000 registered players between them, whereas Fiji has more than 37,000. In other words you could add together the number of players in both the countries that beat Fiji and treble the number and you still wouldn’t have the same naturally abundant rugby resource that Bainimarama’s administration has managed to squander.
But don’t expect Fiji’s clueless sports media to follow that up in any shape or form.
And don’t expect this very elementary comparison of the fortunes of the Fiji U20 team before and after Frank’s rugby coup:
· In 2009, the FRU board was genuinely independent of Bainimarama’s military government, with the PM’s nominee being the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports. In that year, Fiji was ranked #16 but after improving was promoted into the top-tier, 12-team tournament.
· In 2010, the late national U20 coach Eroni Vereivalu piloted the U20s from a 12th ranking to 8th position
· A year later Inoke Male nudged them even higher, up from 8th to 6th position.
But 2011 was when Bainimarama staged his coup – demanding that the board, led by current Sodelpa MP Bill Gavoka, resign if the FRU wanted government funding for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
From that point on, the FRU has been Bainimarama’s play-thing. And the results have been catastrophic. The new FRU chairman was the Land Force Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga. One of the key decisions made by the Tikoitoga board was to abandon the academy system that was largely paid for by the International Rugby Board and which provided a national overview for grassroots development of elite players through the age groups.
· A year later, 2012, and Bainimarama's son-in-law Sale Sorovaki was made U20 coach and the team’s ranking collapsed from 6th to 11th. Tikoitoga was again the chairman. Bill Gadolo in 2013 was coach (this year’s coach) and the team again finished 11th. The FRU chairman was the permanent secretary of Finance Filimone Waqabaca, handpicked by Bainimarama, and parachuted onto the board without election, as the PM’s nominee.
· And then last year the team was relegated to 12th position, fell through the trap door and was demoted into the Tier 2 structure. Again under Waqabaca’s leadership and Bainimarama’s rule.
The best position that the Vodafone Fiji U20 side can hope for in 2015 will be 17th, if they beat Namibia – or 18th if they don’t.