Some Pacific Islander players falling foul of dodgy deals, says players association

MELBOURNE, 21 SEPTEMBER 2015 (ABC NEWS) --- Worrying stories have emerged about young Pacific Islander rugby players being exploited and mistreated as they seek to make a name for themselves.

The players representing the Pacific nations are at the top of their game, with most now playing for overseas clubs on contracts that pay well above anything they could hope to earn back home.

But the International Rugby Players Association said many players from emerging markets, especially the Pacific, and some as young as 14, are falling foul of dodgy deals and not being paid correctly.

"We're getting a call every week, every two weeks, where a player finds themselves in environment, some of them Japan, France, England, wherever, New Zealand, Australia, in the established markets but more and more, emerging in places like the Romanias, the Russias, the Sri Lankas - places you wouldn't expect actually," said the association's chief executive, Rob Nichol.

He said naive players are signing dodgy deals, and the practice is becoming more and more common.

"It's been going on for a quite a while but it's definitely worse in last few years and I think a little bit of that is because of, particularly the activity out of France, wanting to bring players in younger into academies and just the maturity and the evolution of professional rugby," Nichol said.

"It is getting bigger and it's getting more widespread and the search for talent is becoming more aggressive and probably more focussed as to where the talent is."

That is a phenomenon that producer Adam Perrin saw firsthand while making his documentary Pacific Warriors, about the roots of rugby in the Pacific.

"I went to a few kind of junior grade games in Tonga and there was probably 100 people watching these games and of those 100 people, there was at least a dozen French scouts," he said.

Perrin said Pacific Islander players make up a large proportion of players in the Rugby World Cup.

"It's a freak of nature that these tiny islands, miles away from anywhere else, produce specimens that are just perfect for the game we all love of rugby union," he said.

"I mean, 14 of the 20 teams in 2015 World Cup will have a player of Pacific heritage. When you understand the populations it's just an amazing story."

Nichol wants to see World Rugby introduce stricter regulations covering agents and clubs to protect players.

He also wants to see a player development programme for Pacific Islanders - something that has been in development for the past 18 months with World Rugby.

"Making sure you've got that support network that you can deal with the ups and downs of trying to make it as professional athlete, and that you also keep that balance of not putting all the eggs in one basket," he said.

Harry Schuster, the president of the Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions, said the issue of Samoan players being mistreated had not been raised with him.

"As far as we know, no complaints have been made formally to us," he said.

However, Schuster agreed that players themselves need to seek out advice.

"The players should be treated fairly but the players should also be aware they need to read the contract very carefully before signing any piece of paper that they seek legal advice or advice of people that have knowledge of playing in those countries," he said.

Earlier this week, World Rugby's chief executive Brett Gosper defended the organisation's role, dismissing allegations that it is not doing enough to help so-called Tier 2 countries like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.

He said World Rugby has invested 16 million pounds ($35 million) in the Pacific countries over the past four years.... PACNEWS




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