Pacific Islands campaigners have called for an end to “unfair inequality” at global governing body World Rugby.
Pressure group Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) has launched its “Seats At The Table” campaign, to push for greater Pacific Islands representation on the World Rugby Council.
The Pacific Islands nations’ only current influence on the World Rugby Council falls under Oceania Rugby’s two votes of a total 48. That regional umbrella organisation also represents the interests of New Zealand and Australia.
The unions of the All Blacks and the Wallabies also boast three individual votes apiece, leaving Samoa, Tonga and Fiji sharing two council votes with the nine other Oceania Rugby nations.
World Rugby has branded PRPW’s stance “surprising” however, insisting widespread 2015 reform allows any union the chance to earn an individual council vote – already seized upon by Georgia, Romania and the United States.
“We’re massively over-represented in every other area in rugby, aside from administration,” the chief executive of PRPW Dan Leo told Press Association Sport.
“We’ve got terrific coaches in men like Pat Lam, Tana Umaga, Simon Raiwalui, and a new generation of young coaches coming through quickly as well.
“But then Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have just one per cent combined influence on the World Rugby Council. It’s not right.
“We consider this an unfair inequality in the global game, and we feel that improving the Pacific Islands nations’ representation on the World Rugby Council would prove a major step towards allowing the global game to flourish in precisely the way all the sport’s power brokers actually want.”
Leo and PRPW launched their “Seats At The Table” campaign on Wednesday in a bid to highlight the growing influence of Pacific Islands players across the global game.
More than one fifth of all players at the 2015 Rugby World Cup were of Pacific Islands descent, with 15 per cent representing Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. Some 43 players of Pacific Islands descent represented nine of the 17 competing nations outside that region.
Samoa, Tonga and Fiji have all qualified for the last two World Cups, but do not currently meet World Rugby’s full criteria to command individual council votes.
The game’s global governing body insists that any union already has the ability to earn the right to an individual council vote.
“These comments are surprising, given that there is a clear, transparent and fair pathway for all unions to take a seat on Council under sweeping governance reform launched in 2015 under Bill Beaumont’s leadership,” said a World Rugby spokesman.
“It has successfully incentivised unions and Georgia, Romania and USA have already taken their seat having achieved the criteria, while we continue to work with a number of unions, including the Pacific Islands, to assist them in achieving the necessary criteria to achieve Council status.”
Former Wasps and Samoa lock Leo explained PRPW believes a fairer set-up would centre more around World Cup qualification, in a bid to foster development among emerging nations.
Dan Leo, pictured, won 39 caps for Samoa and spent five years at Wasps (Daniel Hambury/PA)
“What makes sense to us is that if you’re in the World Cup you get two votes, if you’re outside the World Cup and you’re a Tier Two or developing nation, you get one vote,” said Leo.
“So that would be up for change every four years, but we consider this a meritocratic, performance-based approach.
“It incentivises strong performances, but would also help smaller nations and unions in becoming the masters of their own destiny. This approach would not just help the Pacific Islands either.”