Daniel Leo has hit back at claims by USA Sevens coach Mike Friday that he is using the sport as a political football by threatening to get it banned from the Olympics in his battle with World Rugby. The Pacific Rugby Players Welfare chief executive is seeking World Rugby governance reform following the recent Francis Kean controversy which saw the Fiji rugby chairman attempt to contest the World Rugby executive committee election despite evidence of homophobic comments and a conviction for manslaughter. 

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Kean eventually quit the election, where he had also seconded Bill Beaumont’s nomination to become chairman, but the fall-out left American boss Friday telling RugbyPass: “This is a pretty juvenile strong-arm tactic to throw out there given all the work that has been done to get sevens into the Olympics. More importantly, sevens is the only authentic way we can make the sport global. Being out of the Games could have serious effects for those who come out of and we need to be careful using the sport as a political football.”

Leo has now responded, using a lengthy PRPW column directed at the Fiji Sun newspaper to reiterate his stance regarding Kean and his alleged incitement to brutalise the Fijian prison officers he commanded, the status of rugby sevens at the 2021 Olympics in Japan, and further undermining what he believes is the inadequate running of Fijian rugby by its officials be recalling his organisation’s ignored pre-RWC 2019 correspondence with the FRU. 

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“To be very clear, Pacific Rugby Players Welfare believes that the current chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union is not a fit and proper person to organise a game of touch rugby in a muddy backyard, let alone to serve as chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union, to sit on the World Rugby Council or even – heaven’s above – the WR Exco. 

“Neither is the chairman’s brother in law, the prime minister and current president of the FRU who appointed the chairman in 2015, nor the prime minister’s cousin, the FRU CEO. We continue to press World Rugby on the status of their investigation into Francis Kean which they promised on April 19 immediately following the Sunday Times’ expose of his shocking homophobic language and incitement to brutalise prison officers he commanded.  

“If you are as interested as you say in the long-term success of rugby sevens in the Olympic programme, we can guarantee that the best way to achieve this is to make sure that Kean (no matter what passport and under which made-up names he selects) goes nowhere near the Tokyo competition,” said Leo in his hard-hitting column. 

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“There is nothing more likely to cause rugby sevens to be removed from the IOC sports programme than for World Rugby and the FRU to have failed to prevent a known homophobic, convicted killer from receiving accreditation to the event, let alone the probable dressing room and pitch access he would expect and even the possibility of presenting medals.

“It’s a reflection that aspects of World Rugby are past their sell-by date, with their fly-in, fly-out expatriate governance experts, that Kean was able to get as far as he did. World Rugby has been marking their homework for too long and the PRPW is leading the process in calling that out.  

“The USA sevens coach Mike Friday, a man whose service to the game I respect, isn’t across the issues of how much damage Kean is doing and has done to Fiji rugby. Just in the same way, we are not across the many challenging issues that USA Rugby faces. But unlike him, we chose not to comment on what we are not fully briefed on. So we have invited him to study the situation in Fiji before he goes into bat for the current FRU chairman. 

“It boils down to this: You are either on the side of a homophobic, convicted killer who incites his junior officers to violence leading to multiple deaths in custody, or you are against such a person having anything to do with the game.  

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“It is for rugby and all the sport’s stakeholders to make their choice on Francis Kean. We know that you have made your choice. We are sure that Friday’s ultimate benefactors at the US Olympic Committee would have a fit if they understood their delegation’s sevens coach was giving anything close to encouragement or approval for someone so obviously unfit for the office his brother in law appointed him to hold.”

Leo wrapped up his column by referencing Fiji’s recent World Cup XVs campaign, which ended in the disappointment of failing to reach the quarter-finals in Japan. “It might interest your readers to reflect on the last time we had any direct dealings with the Fiji Rugby Union. Just so you can be sure in your own mind who has the best interests of Fiji rugby and her fans at heart. 

“In August 2018 we wrote to the FRU CEO to encourage him in the strongest possible terms to demand that World Rugby revisit the schedule for the 2019 Rugby World Cup as both Fiji and Samoa [yet again] had received draws that gave their tier one group rivals a significant advantage. This was more than a year before the tournament. 

“Fiji played her four Test matches in 18 days vs 20 days for Wales and Australia (Samoa was 18 days vs Scotland and Ireland’s 21 days). Who knows, if Fiji had more than three days’ recovery time between the Australia and Uruguay matches – what we were asking the FRU CEO to ensure his team had – the outcome of the whole tournament could have been different. 

“There is no evidence that the FRU CEO even thought to raise this subject. As we said at the time, ‘waiting for scraps and quivering with gratitude is not the way to overhaul a system that has stripped the best from the Pacific and given so little back in return. That is why we chose to stand united as rugby professionals and proud Pacific Islanders, and are happy to look after each other for the common good’. 

“The FRU and the Fiji Sun have spent too long waiting for scraps and quivering with gratitude. Both are obstacles to what the game of rugby needs now more than ever.”

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