Who's got the worst union in World Rugby? Part One - Samoa
OPINION: It is no surprise that on-field success in rugby is in large part driven by the performance of the governing body and structures behind the national team.
The RFU has been showering its profits across the nation as England look more and more like favourites for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. New Zealand Rugby are wishing the Lions could tour more than once every twelve years, while its team continues an impressive streak at the top of the World Rugby rankings.
But it’s not all rosy in rugby right now. Bankruptcy, mismanagement, race issues and the structure of the game itself have created turmoil in some of rugby’s most storied outposts, to the point where the future of the game in those countries is genuinely in doubt.
In this series, we will examine three of World Rugby’s governance under-achievers and ask you, the fan, which one should henceforth be labelled “World’s Worst Rugby Union”.
Part One: Western Samoa
Samoa, ever the Rugby World Cup darlings, have been rocked in the past week by the announcement that the Samoa Rugby Union (SRU) is bankrupt. To the outsider, this was probably inevitable: a tiny island nation with limited resources and money, where the best talent gets swiped at an early age by wealthier pacific neighbours and international private schools. But to those with experience on the ground in Samoa, the story is one more of corruption and mismanagement where the winners, allegedly, are union officials (most notably, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegao, who moonlights as the Chairman of the SRU), and the losers are players, their families and the fans of the game.
According to AFP, “A report penned by former national captain Mahonri Schwalger after the 2011 World Cup accused management of being unprofessional and treating the tournament like a holiday”, while in 2014 the team threatened a boycott ahead of its clash against England due to claims of poor treatment by management and lack of financial openness, claims that were dismissed by Malielegao as the “opinions of little kids”.
Similar claims have been made as recently as June 2017 by the parents of Ethan Lolesio, whose stint at the SRU’s somewhat ironically-named High Performance Unit, left him without basic amenities and a complete lack of management support, to the point where untreated medical issues rendered him unfit for the Under 20s World Cup in Georgia. Couple this with the SRU’s open defiance of World Rugby, its primary benefactor, over coaching selections and player insurance, the future looks shaky at best.
Despite all this, the Samoans have had a reprieve today as passionate islanders, a benevolent Chinese construction firm (!?) and a seemingly begrudging RFU doled out funds to ensure the Autumn Internationals would proceed. But questions still exist as to the long-term viability of the SRU under its current governance structure and we should all expect to see more Tuilagis and Vunipolas running out in white, black or gold instead of the proud royal blue of Manu Samoa.