P.M. hits back at World Rugby, likens treatment to ‘Roman Coliseum’

By Staff Writer ,

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Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i and P.M. Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea’i and P.M. Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi.

“Smaller Unions like Manu Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are expected to play up to their standards to fatten their bank accounts at our expense. This is like being back again in the Roman Coliseum days where the entertainers are fed to the lions” – P.M. Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi


The Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has compared World Rugby’s (W.R.) current gate sharing agreement to the “days of the Roman Coliseum.”

He has also rubbished claims there is “corruption” and “mismanagement” in the handling the bankrupt Union’s finances.

“When we tour England and play against their teams, the stadiums are at full capacity earning millions of pounds for the host Union and Manu Samoa gets hardly anything in return,” Tuilaepa said. “Why? The gate sharing since the amateur days is still current where the host Union takes all. Smaller Unions like Manu Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are expected to play up to their standards to fatten their bank accounts at our expense.  

“This is like being back again in the Roman Coliseum days where the entertainers are fed to the lions.  Samoa, Fiji and Tonga provide the entertainment.  If the gate sharing is not changed, the poorer unions cannot afford to continue on playing under these circumstances.”

Tuilaepa, who is also the Prime Minister, made the comparison in an interview with the state-owned Savali newspaper released by the Office of the Press Secretary. It is in response to criticisms of the Samoa Rugby Union’s handling of finances, following Tuilaepa’s declaration that the Union is bankrupt.

Last week, a public appeal for help saw $400,000 pledged to aid Manu Samoa’s tour of the Northern Hemisphere.

During the interview, Tuilaepa shares a frank picture of the Union’s budget.

“You see our annual budget for this year is close to 11 million Samoan Tala.  The World Rugby funds only about 4.6 million Tala and S.R.U. bears the major balance of the budget from its own fundraisings which include sponsorships from our Government and two local companies. 

“The deficit is funded by bank loans.  If these Commercial Banks were to call up payment, we have no choice but to fold up.  Our loans are unsecured and we are operating from leased property owned by the Samoa Land Corporation.

“We have been dependent on bank financing for the last three years and the figures are available in our Annual Accounts which have clean audit opinions, copies of which have been submitted to W.R. for their records.  So we are talking about hard real issues backed by our financial record.”

Tuilaepa also confirmed simmering tensions between the S.R.U. and World Rugby.

“First World Rugby was unhappy with the process taken by the Board where the Interview Panel recommended one candidate and the Board chose another.  For instance, Fuimaono Tafua our present Head Coach was not recommended by the Panel,” he said. 

“Of the seven shortlisted candidates interviewed, the Panel overlooked Fuimaono who was the best of the applicants in terms of performance. Fuimaono was our Head Coach when Manu Samoa beat the Wallabies in 2011. The Wallabies then was one of the top two Tier 1 teams in the world.

“From the communications with W.R. their view is that the S.R.U. should only be a rubber stamp.  That is to approve whatever a Sub-Committee recommends.  We disagreed. 

“Indeed we attach importance to Coach Performance on the field.  In a small country where rugby is popular, the public is most vocal when its rugby team does not perform.  And the Board has to bear all the bad publicity from the fans.  We are answerable to our public and sponsors who fund over 60% of our Budget.

“Many of our players do not fully understand the Coaches’ directives in English.  Some of our expatriate appointees by the WR do not fully appreciate cultural practices of our players, which by tradition generate greater mental preparation for our players.  That is why the Board recommends other management appointees who are locals to help out.  There are many negative feedbacks that the Board has to try and resolve on many cultural matters beyond the understanding of W.R. officials.

“In Samoa nothing is secret in a small society.  A leakage is often hard to stop – Thus when the local papers published our decisions prematurely before we formally advise the W.R. of our decision, these are matters beyond our control, this is regrettable.  

“Such is the world where the social media reigns supreme, a common feature of modern communications that is most active in small countries to survive due to paucity of news for their publications.  Yet W.R. gives extraordinary attention to this issue of the news leakage to embarrass this Union.

Tuilaepa added that over the years, about 95per cent of the panelists’ recommendations are accepted by the Board.  

“Only in exceptional circumstances that the recommendations are not accepted,” he said.

Asked critics who have raised suspicions about corruption and mismanagement within the Rugby Union, Tuilaepa rejected this.

“I have mentioned before that for the last three years our audited accounts had clean audit opinions,” he said. 

 “That is final proof as in any organization that our financial statements showed a true and fair view of the financial results and that proper accounting of the organizations financing have been kept.

“For these past three years of improved management and financial reforms, we have managed to pay all our expenses and fulfilled all our obligations to participate at WR sanctioned events, paid all the players allowances and have no more complaints.  World Rugby should be fully aware of these developments.

“It should be noted that our Board members are all volunteers. They do not receive any monetary payments for their services.

“We also have a small administration staff of seven employees only.  In our preparation of the 2015 All Blacks/Manu Samoa Match in Apia, we could only allocate 5 full time staff working around the clock to make the Event successful – a factor which caused some surprise to the NZRU officials whether we were serious.  

“But what can we do with the kind of budget we operate on?  In the end all the arrangements ran smoothly and the organization aspects were a great success.”

The following is the full interview with the Savali:

 

Savali Much has been written about the financial difficulties faced by SRU.  What is the latest status?

Chairman “SRU’s financial position has gotten worse with the latest threat by World Rugby to cut their contribution due to their displeasure with certain decisions by the Samoa Rugby Union over the appointments of our Head coaches for the Rugby 15 and Rugby Sevens.

You see our annual budget for this year is close to 11 million Samoan Tala.  The World Rugby funds only about 4.6 million Tala and SRU bears the major balance of the budget from its own fundraisings which include sponsorships from our Government and two local companies. The deficit is funded by bank loans.  If these Commercial Banks were to call up payment, we have no choice but to fold up.  Our loans are unsecured and we are operating from leased property owned by the Samoa Land Corporation.

We have been dependent on bank financing for the last 3 years and the figures are available in our Annual Accounts which have clean audit opinions, copies of which have been submitted to WR for their records.  So we are talking about hard real issues backed by our financial record.

 

Savali Can you elaborate on your dispute with World Rugby?

Chairman First World Rugby was unhappy with the process taken by the Board where the Interview Panel recommended one candidate and the Board chose another.  For instance, Fuimaono Tafua our present Head Coach was not recommended by the Panel.  Of the 7 shortlisted candidates interviewed, the Panel overlooked Fuimaono who was the best of the applicants in terms of performance. Fuimaono was our Head Coach when Manu Samoa beat the Wallabies in 2011. The Wallabies then was one of the top two Tier 1 teams in the world.

From the communications with WR their view is that the SRU should only be a rubber stamp.  That is to approve whatever a Sub-Committee recommends.  We disagreed. 

Indeed we attach importance to Coach Performance on the field.  In a small country where rugby is popular, the public is most vocal when its rugby team does not perform.  And the Board has to bear all the bad publicity from the fans.  We are answerable to our public and sponsors who fund over 60 percent of our Budget.

Many of our players do not fully understand the Coaches’ directives in English.  Some of our expatriate appointees by the WR do not fully appreciate cultural practices of our players which by tradition generate greater mental preparation for our players.  That is why the Board recommends other management appointees who are locals to help out.  There are many negative feedbacks that the Board has to try and resolve on many cultural matters beyond the understanding of WR officials.

In Samoa nothing is secret in a small society.  A leakage is often hard to stop – Thus when the local papers published our decisions prematurely before we formally advise the WR of our decision, these are matters beyond our control, and this is regrettable.  Such is the world where the social media reins supreme, a common feature of modern communications that is most active in small countries to survive due to paucity of news for their publications.  Yet WR gives extraordinary attention to this issue of the news leakage to embarrass this Union.

 

Savali In your panel is the WR represented?

Chairman Yes, they always send a representative to sit in the interviews.  I would say in my years as Chairman, about 95% of the Panelists’ recommendations are accepted by the Board.  Only in exceptional circumstances that the recommendations are not accepted.


Savali You mentioned that WR’s contribution is about $4.6 million tala and your total budget of about $11 million tala is funded by commercial bank loans and your other sponsors.  What can you do to raise more funds?

Chairman Sponsorships and good performances on the field are closely related.  Which is why we are especially preoccupied with coaches who produce good results on the field.

Another possibility is fairness in gate sharing.  When we tour England and play against their teams, the stadiums are at full capacity earning millions of pounds for the host Union and Manu Samoa gets hardly anything in return.  Why? The gate sharing since the amateur days is still current where the host Union takes all.  Smaller Unions like Manu Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are expected to play up to their standards to fatten their bank accounts at our expense.  This is like being back again in the Roman Coliseum days where the entertainers are fed to the lions.  Samoa, Fiji and Tonga provide the entertainment.  If the gate sharing is not changed, the poorer unions cannot afford to continue on playing under these circumstances.

 

Savali How can other countries or well financed Teams help?

Chairman Early this year the representatives of three Unions, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga met with Hon. Murray McCully with the NZ Rugby Union Chairman and CEO.  The purpose was to see how financial help can be organized for our Unions.  The statements made by the NZ Union Officials emphasized the commercial viability principles for each Union which means there was absolutely NO help forthcoming.

But I remembered at our Forum Meeting in FSM several years ago, I was asked to receive from PM Key a commitment of NZ$10 million to help Rugby and Netball for three of our Pacific Island Nations including Samoa.  I was excited that this welcomed assistance will help our cash-strapped Rugby Unions. I discovered later that the NZ Government had handed the money over to the NZ Rugby Union to spend as they see fit on projects they consider helpful to our rugby and netball.  That means the money is again spent to provide jobs for their own boys.

 

Savali Occasionally some critics in the social media have raised suspicions that there is corruption and mismanagement within the Rugby Union.

Chairman I have mentioned before that for the last three years our audited accounts had clean audit opinions.  That is final proof as in any organization that our financial statements showed a true and fair view of the financial results and that proper accounting of the organizations financing have been kept.

For these past three years of improved management and financial reforms, we have managed to pay all our expenses and fulfilled all our obligations to participate at WR sanctioned events, paid all the players allowances and have no more complaints.  World Rugby should be fully aware of these developments.

It should be noted that our Board members are all volunteers. They do not receive any monetary payments for their services.

We also have a small administration staff of seven employees only.  In our preparation of the 2015 All Blacks/Manu Samoa Match in Apia, we could only allocate 5 full time staff working around the clock to make the Event successful – a factor which caused some surprise to the NZRU officials whether we were serious.  But what can we do with the kind of budget we operate on?  In the end all the arrangements ran smoothly and the organization aspects were a great success.

 

Savali Why is Manu Samoa so important to World Rugby?

Chairman Our brand of Island Rugby played by Samoa, Fiji and Tonga generates excitement to the public.  And from small countries with smaller population that in themselves creates added interest in the sense, any match against a bigger Union with a lot of resources is a replay of the great encounter between David and Goliath.  We provide good entertainment any time we tour Europe.


 

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