The future of rugby unions in Pacific uncertain

The future of rugby unions in the Pacific remain uncertain as they seek guidance from World Rugby amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

For unions like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, commercial viability was already challenging and with USA Rugby filing for bankruptcy along with larger rugby nations facing serious financial worries, Pacific clubs and unions were becoming concerned for their future.

The CEO of Samoa Rugby, Faleomavaega Vincent Fepulea'i, said he was seeking financial support from World Rugby.

"We are in constant communication with World Rugby. We've had a couple of conference calls and meetings collectively with all the other tier two unions which includes Tonga and Fiji...and we're trying to work with World Rugby on a way forward and hopefully they're going to support us financially with some funding," he said.

"At this stage, it hasn't been confirmed as yet, but we're putting collectively together of what is going to happen in the next six months at least."

According to the Dailymail, World Rugby asked all unions to present best and worst-case scenarios as they prepared a 'Marshall Plan' of loans, designed to stave off insolvency until fixtures resumed.

World Rugby Chairman, Bill Beaumont, said the organisation could intervene to an extent to assist rugby nations facing extreme hardship, but aid must come from elsewhere too.

"At World Rugby, we have financial reserves and we have to look at how we can preserve the global game… we have funds, but we don't have enough funds to bail everyone out," said Beaumont.

"Governments have a responsibility as well… I'd like to think that any union in a real plight could approach their government for help because they are the national brand of their sport," he said.

Like everything else around the world, rugby in Samoa had come to a halt and the union had been disestablished until further notice.

Faleomavaega said it was a difficult time, but he understood it was a situation everyone was trying to cope with.

"For the Union at the moment, everything has been dispersed, our academy has been dispersed as well and there's just a few people working in the office and the rest are all working from home," he said.

"It's not just us, it's across the board everywhere. For us I think Samoa was hit quite badly in terms of you know, we had to cancel all domestic competitions and so forth and follow to the letter the State of Emergency as directed by the government."

In the Cook Islands, the rugby union had been working closely with Oceania Rugby in creating a four-year strategy plan and a constitution with guidance from World Rugby.

Acting President of Cook Islands Rugby, Simiona Teiotu, said those plans were now on hold.

"We're still here and we are working closely with Oceania Rugby and World Rugby and of course everything in the world now has come to a stop."

Teiotu said he was surprised to hear about the fate of USA Rugby, but that was not the case for the Cook Islands.

"From a rugby perspective I'm surprised to see the USA going to that statement [of filing for bankruptcy] and this is challenging for us to hear but we are not the USA."

"I am still receiving information from Oceania Rugby and World Rugby as the acting President of the Cook Islands Rugby Union so from our end everything is on hold until this thing [coronavirus] has been eliminated or attended to."

Teiotu conceded the possibility of the Cook Islands team playing international footy that was scheduled for October and November was now unlikely.

"The thinking of rugby over here in our country is still strong… Everything is just on hold now because the safety of our families, especially our elderly and our young ones, is priority in our mind now."

Meanwhile CEO of the UK-based Pacific Rugby Players Welfare organisation, Dan Leo, hoped to see the Pacific included in any revenue-sharing to help fund the sport in the Pacific Island nations.

Leo, who looked after the interests of players from the islands in the professional game, had been chasing revenue-sharing for tier two nations when they play at the major northern unions in November. He told RugbyPass that Covid-19 had shed some light on financial problems the Pacific Island nations deal with every year.

"It is very easy for the tier one nations to ignore this kind of issue when you don't ever have to deal with it yourself, but that has now changed," he said.

"This should be a world-wide discussion not only for tier one nations to get through this current situation. It could be a stop-gap until unions are profitable again after Covid-19 passes but something should be written into the World Rugby law that after this crisis, tier two nations should still get a benefit from playing the bigger nations.

"We are talking about the long term sustainability of the sport," he added.