England flanker James Haskell

James Haskell joins fight to eradicate expolitation of Pacific Island nations, highlighted by new Dan Leo documentary

Former England flanker James Haskell has joined a powerful army of players and coaches in condemning World Rugby’s reluctance to improve the fortunes of Pacific Island teams.

Haskell voiced his concern in Oceans Apart: Greed, Betrayal and Pacific Island Rugby, an hour-long documentary due to be aired on Amazon Prime on Tuesday that shines a disturbing light on all aspects of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa’s battle for parity with tier one nations.

Corruption, profit sharing, player poaching, eligibility, poor governance and the inequality of voting rights are all exposed by the programme’s presenter, ex-Samoa lock Dan Leo.

Leo’s revealing interview with World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper highlights the extent to which the governing body has abrogated responsibility for dealing with Pacific Island issues.

Samoa threatened to boycott a game against England at Twickenham in 2014 before receiving assurances that that grievances over profit sharing would be dealt with. Six years on, nothing has changed.

On the lack of profit sharing, Haskell says: “It’s massively unfair and needs to be rectified. If we’re not even going to tour (the Pacific Islands), there should be an agreement over funding.

“When we played Samoa in 2014, we talked about splitting match fees but then it got left and nothing happened. I don’t think it’s fair that a team coming to Twickenham to provide a spectacle receives nothing, they should be rewarded with part of the ticket sales for that day. But everyone just forgets about it.

“We do a huddle of solidarity with the ‘brothers’ but then we just f*** off and play New Zealand. It’s all wrong – the unfair voting system, we all know that’s rubbish too.”

Pat Lam, Lima Sopoaga, Nemani Nadolo and former Fiji 7s coach Ben Ryan also feature in the damning documentary which concludes with an exasperated Leo, founder of Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, saying of World Rugby: “After meeting Brett Gosper, I was disappointed. For World Rugby to laugh at my suggestion of achieving equal voting power and for the CEO to not even know what a tier two nation was shows how far behind the sport is.

“On the surface rugby continues to present itself as following noble values – equality, fairness and sportsmanship – but the reality is that rugby is treating the Pacific Islands and its players as a commodity, like any natural resource that is exploited for profit.”


*This article originally featured in The Rugby Paper’s November 15 2020 edition.

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