Injustice For All?

A place in the Rugby World Cup quarter final will probably be at stake when Scotland and Samoa play in Newcastle on October 10. For some players it will be a career-defining encounter.

It should be a thunderous clash and I’ve been looking forward to it. Or at least I was, until this week when I read something that made me realise we’ll be taking on opponents who are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

Dan Leo, the experienced lock, used an interview with Planet Rugby to explain why the Samoa team we see at the World Cup won’t be their best.

“I have had the pressure of choosing between whether or not to play for my country right through my career,” he said. “It’s probably even worse now because of the pressure on clubs to succeed.

“I can say confidently that every Pacific Island player when they’re talking with clubs will be pressurised to declare themselves unavailable for internationals. Two contracts, two salaries, one for if they retire/refrain from Tests and one if they don’t which can vary from up to 30 or 40 percent.”

Some of the best players for one of the world’s best teams won’t be playing at the World Cup – because they can’t afford to.

According to an economic study commissioned by the tournament organisers, RWC 2015 will generate up to £2.2 billion of output into the English economy. It will add nearly £1billion to England’s Gross Domestic Product.

And yet Samoa will not be able to put out their best team against Scotland because some of their players can’t afford to take part. At time of writing Samoa are ninth, one place above Scotland, in the official test rankings.

It’s not a new problem. Several players, notably the Fijians Sireli Bobo and Jone Qovu, made themselves unavailable for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand so they could play for their clubs.

This inequality could have been addressed in the last four years but the guardians of the game have other priorities. The chief executive of World Rugby, Brett Gosper, recently told a conference of sports industry delegates that he’d like to see more teams take part in the World Cup.

“As the sport grows and we conquer new markets the discussion is about looking towards expanding [of the World Cup], rather than contracting,” is what he said.

I hope to God someone had the mettle to ask Gosper why they were looking to conquer new markets when the world’s ninth-ranked nation can’t afford to enter their best team.

But what has any of this got to do with Scotland? Why should I, as a Scotland fan, feel uneasy about it?

Here’s why.

Samoa boast one of the great tightheads of the modern era in Census Johnston. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely he’ll be lining up for them against us at St James’s Park. Instead he’ll probably be playing club rugby in France.

Let Dan Leo explain why. “It’s sad for Samoa, because we lose our most experienced tighthead prop, the cornerstone of our pack and one of our world class players,” he said to Rugby World.

“I’m not here to judge Census for his decision, because I can totally see why he chose to do that. If it comes down to a decision of whether you’re going to put bread on the table or not, what are you going to do? You’ll look after your family every time.”

Meanwhile the Scotland number three shirt may well be filled by WP Nel, a South African with no blood ties to our country. Three years ago he was drafted in to play for Edinburgh and serve his international residency requirements because the SRU felt that Scotland might not be able to rear a player of suitable talent in that position.

Nel is blameless; he’s a professional who is making the best possible career for himself and I wish him well if and when he plays for Scotland.

But something’s fundamentally wrong when one nation can go and buy a player off the shelf if they’re a bit short while their opponents have to make do without one of their totemic figures, who can’t be there because he’s had to decide “whether to put bread on the table or not”. And all while billions are being made in the background.

I hope Scotland beat Samoa on October 10. I can’t help it, I’m a Scottish rugby fan – and heaven knows nobody supports the Scottish rugby team purely out of a lust for glory.

If Scotland win, though, I’ll find it hard not to think about Census Johnston and feel a pang of guilt. The real kicker is that if Samoa win and make the knockout stages, I’ll think of Census Johnston and feel the same because he’ll have been priced out of an experience that money can’t buy.

I can think of no clearer example of rank, rotten unfairness. It stinks.

Alan has played club rugby badly for more than 20 years and is currently lumbering around for Bannockburn RFC. He's been a Glasgow Warriors season ticket holder since before it was fashionable.

14 comments on “Injustice For All?

  1. Neil on

    I never knew about the state of affairs with the Samoan players but, being driven by injustice, I think it sucks and the IRB/World rugby need to adress this. If the same were happening to French or English players there would be an absolute outcry but the organisation seems to always favour the top 4 or five nations in a similar way that FIFA favours the French.

    Rugby is meant to be a gentlemans game run by gentlemen and prides itself on the core values of fair play, equality and tolerance, all of which seem to be in short supply at present.

    It seems to me that everything is run in favour of the larger clubs/teams/national teams, from the schedule of games, TV rights, contracts that players have with clubs etc. World rugby love the three SH teams, followed closely by England, France, Waales and Ireland. Every other team is second class or worse, to the point of it constituting racism. If a Samoan player is offerered more money by a French team if he does not take part in internationals then why do the same rules not apply to a French player playing for the same team. In any other line of business, the Samoan could legitimately take the company to court on charges of racism so why is rugby immune to this.

    Unfortunatyely, I think these racist attitudes and lack of equality go far deeper than just World rugby. There are just so many examples to chose from but I will give you another one or two before I retreat from the soapbox. Scotland have played one or two less international games during the Autumn than England and Wales for as long as I can remember, even in the days of ammature rugby when we used to beat these teams on a regular basis- WHY??????? Wales always get the rub of the green during Scotland:Wales matches. They always get dodgby penalties and at least one of our players sent of- WHY????
    Why has Scotland never hosted the WC final at Murrayfield, yet this has been hosted at both Cardiff and Twickenham. Why are the sevens going to be cancelled in Glasgow, in favour of a location in France. We invented the bleddin game for heavens sake and the Glasgow tournament has been a huge success. At present we have a good 7’s teams and France look rubbish (they were also rubbish in the 6 nations yet World rugby love them)

    I keep asking myself why but, in reality I know the answer (as if it was’nt bl**dy obvious!). Rugby is elitist and borders on racist at almost every level, from World rugby , to sevens, to TV companies, to contracts that players have with clubs, to salaries. There are probably many more examples of inequality in our sport but I feel that, as World rugby is the governing body, they ought to be the bigger person and stamp out the inequalities once and for all.

  2. FF on

    Apologies in advance for the long post. I’m sympathetic to Samoan fans that they won’t see their best team fielded at the RWC but the outrage in this article is misplaced in my opinion.

    1. Clubs – it is perfectly understandable that clubs will offer less valuable contracts to players who will not appear for them for large chunks of the season due to international commitments. It might be disappointing but sport is professional and clubs will always act to get the most value out of their resources – they aren’t in it for charity after all.

    2. Players – the only player that Dan Leo has cited as foregoing his test career is Census Johnstone. This does his argument no favours – Johnstone is one of the highest profile tightheads in the world playing for one of the wealthiest clubs in the world; he is not struggling to put food on the table, his contract is likely to be in the region of £300,000 a year at least (I couldn’t find details online but believe it or not but James Hook gets paid £400,000 pa and it is well known that tightheads are typically among the top earners). If he has chosen not to represent Samoa it is because he has chosen a bigger pay day over representing his country. Samoans have to make bigger sacrifices than players for rich countries but the world is a deeply unequal place. Dan Leo’s argument is self-serving and he should be judging his fellow senior players if they choose to turn their back on their country.

    3. Players #2 – It is far more understandable to argue these countries lose young talent due to the lure of money in the NH/4N. However, Leo doesn’t make this argument because he knows that the vast majority of Samoa’s squad are NZs of Samoan heritage and they only leave NZ when their AB aspirations have come to an end and playing for Samoa is far from their main priority. The impact of inequality on Fiji is far more profound as more and more Fijians are recruited as youngsters to play in French academies. I think this shows the real issue with Leo’s argument, these issues reflect global inequality not an injustice created by rugby’s administrators.

    4. World Rugby/RWC – the billions that is generated by the world cup that is cited in the article is not earned by World Rugby and they have no power to distribute it. That figure is totally misleading as it is the benefit to the whole host economy – it goes to hoteliers and bar owners.

    The money that is generated at world cups for the organisers and World Rugby is actually generated by a small number of leading countries: for the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, 87% of viewers came from the Five Nations (England, France, Wales, Ireland, Scotland), 15% came from the Tri-Nations (South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand), with just 2% of viewers coming from all other countries. Furthermore, at the last world cup NZ had to guarantee the IRB £80m. The NZ RFU did not make a profit and NZ taxpayers actually underwrote the cost of staging the tournament. What does World Rugby do with this money? It distributes it to developing nations. Most recently it released £18.6 million of funding over three years for developing rugby nations Canada, the USA, Japan, Romania, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. This was in addition to the £10–12 million it normally gives out annually as grants and tournament costs to support the Pacific Nations Cup, Pacific Rugby Challenge, Americas Rugby Championship and other lower profile tournaments and development projects.

    What would you prefer World Rugby do, invest in grass roots development around the world or subsidise salary costs of professional players, many of whom will be earning far in excess of other people from their home countries?

    5. Eligibility criteria – World Rugby has announced it will be reviewing eligibility criteria. But again, who do we blame? Nathan Hughes will play for England instead of Fiji because he wants to maximise his earnings, yet he is not exactly on poverty wages at Wasps and could make a fortune if he moved to a French club. He does bear responsibility for the decisions he’s made. I’d support an extension to the residency rules but fortunately it appears that World Rugby is not deaf to this now that it is impacting the big SH teams (SA principally).

    So what is the solution? The only option is to create a rational global calendar where no club rugby is played that overlaps with international tests.

    • Neil on

      FF- sorey matey but youve got it wrong this time and I think you must be tlking out of your bum. Are you the real FF or an imposter?. I’ll try to deal with your points briefly:

      1. Clubs. I have a big problem with this rule as it puts the players in an awkward position. I also think it is highly racist as it only seems to apply to certain nationalities and not others.
      2. Players. This is clearly an unfair and racist policy only affecting some nationalities and not others. How would you feel is Scottish players could not play for their country because they had signed a lucrative deal with Glasgaow, forbiding their involvement in our national squad? Imagine the outcry if the top players of England and France could not take part in the WC? Of course I accept that some natyions are better than others- do you?

      3. Players 2. this is a much bigger issue that requires attention by World Rugby. As you know the issues of nationality and nationality are very important to me but I wont go through the old arguments I have presented in previous posts.

      4. world Rugby. World rugby favour just one or two elitist nations. For instance, why has the WC never been awarded to any nation outside the 6 nations (excluding Italy, Scotland and Ireland who are just 2nd class) or the SH big 3. Why not play it in Canada, for instance. Its because they want to keep all the revenues within the elite nations and dont want to spread the game internationally. The fact is that, if the USA and Canada got their acts together, they would probably beat NZ, SA and OZ, not to mention the home nnations, on a regular basis. Just look at the physique of the American football players. Sorry but Dan Carter etal. would be KUFFED. Thats why they want to keep the game elitist and not to involve too many nations. Its fine if the aformentioned nations can bet Samoa by 20 points or more, but we must’nt allow them to challenge us for victory.

      5. eligibility
      So World Rugby are looking into this are they- are they heck! They have had loads of opportunities do do something about this but chose not to. I dont blame the players as they are only trying to better themselves but I do blame World Rugby for not adressing the issue.

      I’m not sure if you read my post but my point is that World Rugby needs to be the bigger man and introduce the following rules:

      1. Same terms and conditions of contracts for all nationalities. This form of racism must be stopped.
      2. No extra pay from clubs for participating in the WC or for turning out for the national team of your country.
      3. Wage caps (as they do in Basketball and other sport). This would prevent English and French clubs dominating everyone else (probably why World Rugby would not consisder introducing such a measure).
      4. More strict rules on nationality. To compete for a particualr nation you should have either been born there, hold a passport for that country, or have played professional rugby in that counry for at least 5 years before you are eligible. The present situation is a farse.

      At the moment WR want the game to be dominated by the 3 SH nations, Egland, France and, to a slightly lesser extent, Wales. Scotland, Ireland and Italy are 2nd class and the other teams are third class? They dont want too change things because it may mean that a team from say Canada could end up winning the WC.

      FF- you really need to see the bigger picture.

      • Ruairidh Campbell on

        Just a reminder Neil that Japan will host the 2019 World Cup with the USA and Ireland the two favourites to host the 2023 competition…
        Also, there are already salary caps in both the English and French leagues (although I admit that their use in the latter is questionable).
        The reason why the clubs are unwilling to let their players go is because they have to continue to pay their wages basically from the end of July until mid-October despite the fact that they will be away with the national team. With some club games on at the same time, they then need to find some players for the league games to avoid having a poor start to the season. Unfair, although from a business point of view it does make some sense.

      • Neil on

        I did’nt know about Japan hosting the 2019 tournament but I think thats a great idea. Why has it taken the IRB/World rugby so long to see the light? The world cup has been going since 1987 yet it is only now that a venue for it has been chosen outside one of the privilaged nations.
        There is still alot of work to do in terms of salary capping. What is the cap set at and is it being implemented effectively? I wonder as the French clubs seem to be able to attract all the best players as they offer much higher salaries than elesewhere. These issues need to be adressed by world Rugby. If there is a cap then it should be set at a sufficiently low level to allow Edinburgh, Glasgow and other clubs compete with Toulon, Toulouse, Bath etc.
        The issue of allowing players to turn out for their national team is a contencious one but I think World Rugby needs to intervene in order to allow this to happen. I am really sickened by the fact that a French player can play for France without experiencing any repercussions but the same does not hold true for a Samoan playing for the same French club. Is this racist or is this racist.

      • FF on

        Neil – as usual your posts are regrettably fact-free.

        Clubs cannot prevent players from playing for their international teams. World Rugby Regulation 9 governs player release during international test windows including the world cup and prevents clubs from preventing release if selected.

        What Dan Leo has said is that wealthy clubs offer better contracts to players who will agree to retire from test rugby and that the difference can be 30-40% of the value of contract. That might be regrettable and an unfair inducement but it also reflects commercial reality as clubs can offer contracts to who they want on terms they choose.. Clubs in England and France are compensated for the absence of test players from their own country outside of the international windows and so signing test players from their own countries brings commercial benefits. Signing a player from abroad who will miss months of the off-season and the first couple of months of the regular season due to the world cup inevitably impacts what a club will be willing to offer a player. It remains the players free choice. It is unfortunate that Samoa cannot afford to pay their test players large sums to appear for them to offset this loss of earnings (England pay their players £15,000 per appearance) but this is the reality of professional sport, players get paid by clubs according to their perceived value and this will rely on their availability. Nations pay their test players what they can afford and need to, to compensate them for loss of clubs earnings.

        Eligibility criteria has become a serious issue relatively recently because four years ago clubs had far less spending power which the recent TV deals have given them, it was not common for young players to be recruited from half way around the world into club academies, Scotland and Ireland had not begun recruiting ‘project players’ and there was less player migration in general. Typically, four years ago the majority of foreign players in European leagues were SH players at the end of their careers or guys from lower tier nations who had already appeared for their countries and so couldn’t qualify via residency. Of course there were exceptions (Japan always had half a dozen players via residency) but now it is commonplace to have players in test teams who have qualified on residency. If you had followed the news you’d see that World Rugby has announced it will set up a working group to review eligibility criteria for this reason.

        Why hasn’t the world cup been staged in a tier two country yet? Money. World Rugby needs the RWC to generate as much as possible to fund its development activities. Rugby only became professional in 1995 so there have only been four world cups in the professional era. There is a hugely limited pool of countries that could make it a commercial success. The fact that Japan is hosting the next world cup and countries like Italy are now bidding for it shows that the RWCs horizons are expanding.

        Finally, you suggest that it is within World Rugby’s power to implement a global salary cap allowing a level playing field between clubs around the world. If you think that is remotely achievable you are completely deluded. To ensure the international game is as fair as possible, the only solution is a global calendar which would limit the impact on clubs of recruiting test players. Even that is pretty unlikely.

      • Neil on

        FF- you mention money as being the motivator for not awarding the WC to a tier 2 nations. However, World Rugby needs to think more long term. By hosting the tournament in such a country it can only increase exposure of rugby on a global scale and that would benefit the sport in the long term.
        Regarding eligibility- sure clubs cannot stop players turning out for their national team but they can make life very difficult for players who do- for example they can offer better terms and conditions, not to mention pay, to those who reject international duty. They can also play mind games such as dropping international players from the squad, bullying them into submission etc. All of this goes on but only really affects south Pacific Island nations and other minor nations in rugby terms. It is a clear case of racism and needs to be addressed by World Rugby.
        Regarding pay caps, it works in Basketball and other sports in North America so why not Rugby. Again Word Rugby needs to take the lead. They need to explain to national boards such as the SRU that if their club teams do not comply with the strict regulations on salary caps etc, they will be banned from taking part in the 6 nations, WC and other high profile tournaments.
        On eligibility, you mention that World Rugby are looking into this . My view is that they could not even care less and are doing Jack. Looking into something means nothing- actions are the only thing that counts because talk is so cheap.
        The point I really want to make is the World Rugby needs to ‘man up’ and take the lead with all of these issues. If they don’t do this then nobody else will.

  3. Angus on

    If you look below this level it gets even worse

    Last year the Cook Islands went to Fiji to play in the final qualifier for this world cup. In the lead up to that game Fiji had 3 home internationals in the 3 weeks leading up to it against Samoa, Tonga and Italy. The Cook Islands had not played a game since they won the Oceania qualifier over 12 months before.

    The Cooks had only 2 professional players in their ranks, one from France and one from Japan, both of whom had taken time off and traveled at their own expense to be part of the Cook Islands “One More Dream” campaign

    Fiji was a pretty well a fully professional outfit

    Despite this, in a major upset, the Cookies were leading after 20 minutes before the Fijians kicked into gear and it ended up being a blow out.

    After the game a member of the IRB asked the President of Cook Islands rugby who they would be playing in the Repechage. She was taken aback because Oceania is the only region where they do not go to the repechage yet the IRB member had no idea

    Earlier in the year the Cook Islands had requested to be admitted to the Pacific Rugby Cup which was made up of, among others, Fiji A, Samoa A, Reds development, ACT Development and is intended to be a second string comp behind the main Pacific Nations Cup

    They were refused despite being the strongest second string Oceania country. Instead the Pampas of Argentina were included

    This year the format has been changed and the competing teams will be Canada A, Junior Japan, Samoa A, Pampas, Fiji Warriors (their A team) and Tonga A

    Therefore there is no pathway or reward for the best second string Oceania nation to improve themselves while the A teams of countries already strong in rugby are rewarded with a competition and development path for their second string / development players.

    This is wrong and shows a total disregard for the development of these Oceania nations and to repeat – The Cook Islands played a knock out qualifier for the world cup against a professional fully prepared Fijian side without having played a game for over a year !!!!

    Also in the past few months after going into camp in New Zealand for over 2 weeks after an extensive selection and preparation process and playing warm up games against local NZ club sides the Cook Islands Under 20 side were left with no competition to play in when the Oceania Under 20s competition was cancelled due to no country coming forward to host it

    The problems in the region run very deep if you aren’t one of the top 3 countries

    In the Caribbean, Guyana, as the winner of the regional NACRA 7s competition back in November qualified for the Hong Kong 7s world series qualifier competition but due to a lack of funding they played in no tournament between winning NACRA and going to Hong Kong

    Of all the other sides playing in that qualifying competition I couldn’t find any who had played in less than 2 tournaments as part of their preparation for Hong Kong

    In these “lesser” regions the gulf between them and the next level is already huge and it is due in the main to a lack of games against better opposition and without the support and opportunity to realise their potential they will for ever be doomed to stagnating at the regional level

    • Neil on

      Angus- some really interesting points. I just wonder if the powers at be are a little affraid of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. Some of the strongest and fittest men in the world come from these nations and if they were not to lose their top players to clubs in Europe and other national teams such as NZ and even England, I feel that they would be challenging for top honours at the WC. Just look at how well these nations, particularly Fiji, have performed at sevens. They would only need another 5 or 6 top quality players and then they would become a team to fear at 15 a side. Officials from World Rugby that are of QZ. NZ, SA, English or French desent would then have something to fear, hence the reason that the current arrangement suits them.
      I amy be a bitr cynical from time to time but on this one I think I an right.

  4. Phoenix on

    Neil – How is the clubs offering larger pay packets to players available during the international window in any way ‘racist’ as you say? Your argument is that it only effects internationalists from some nations ie Samoa, Tonga etc. However, many unions require their players to play at home in order to qualify for the national team (England, NZ, Australia (kind of), Wales outside official IRB window (4th Autumn test)). Therefore, when French teams offer players from these nations big money contracts, they do so fully in the knowledge that it will preclude those players from playing in internationals, and therefore by association, mean that they will be available to the club for the full season. Granted there may not be a specific clause in their contracts that says ‘you must not be away for international weekends’ but the eligibility criteria of the affected nations has the same desired effect. How is this any different? It is not racist, it is good commercial sense and the player knows the consequences when entering into the contract.

    • Neil on

      This is almost irrelevant as players turning out at club level in the nations that you mentioned will probably be making a reasonable salary in the first instance and they will be playing at the highest level. There is very little incentive for them to move. The problem occurs with Samoan, Tongan and Fijian nationals. These guys find themselves under enormous pressure when they try to play for their national team and are treated in a very different way to nationals of Oz, SA, NZ etc. That’s why I think there is a case for racism. Before I close, think about this one- if a company in the UK employed people from lot of different countries but payed some nationals more than others for doing the same job and offered them different terms and conditions, there would be an outcry. The workers would be able to take the company to court in contravention of the race relations act. However, rugby seems to be immune from this.

      • FF on

        Where is there a suggestion that Census Johnstone earns less than French nationals for the same job? Johnstone is one of the best tight heads in the world and one of the best paid players at Toulouse, one of the wealthiest clubs in the world. He almost certainly gets paid more than any French prop in the Top-14. All that has happened is that Toulouse have told him they’ll pay extra for him to retire and play an extra 8 games for them instead – he will get paid more for playing more. He has chosen to do that because unlike French or English players, his national team pays a pittance for international appearances (last World Cup Samoa paid £500 pm). That is entirely separate from what he earns from his club. Leo is just pissed off that Johnstone has chosen more money over the honour of representing his country. But Johnstone is not under any financial pressure, he is extremely wealthy.

        There are financial pressures on some players from lower tier countries (unlike most Samoan test players like Johnstone who are NZ nationals) but the fact that they don’t play in the 6N is what makes them highly sought after players in Europe who command big salaries. It is obvious that when this isn’t the case during the RWC years their salaries will be impacted.

      • Neil on

        The greatest honour is to represent ones country in an international. Money should be irrelevant by comparison but the fact remains that clubs are puting pressure on certain players of particular nationalities to avoid international duty. That’s why I think there is a case for racism.

  5. Angus on

    I have heard recently that from a date I do not know the Pumas will only be picking from those playing in the super 18. When I was coaching there about 7 years ago and there was talk of them joining the tri nations I argued for them to have 2 teams in the super comp first.

    My fear was that Argentinian players would lose their appeal to European clubs if they had to be released for quad nations each year. I have not heard of any specific cases of this happening but their release is an annual requirement as opposed to every 4 years

    Given the choice of an Argie or a euro player of say level who would u sign?

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