Outspoken Sunday Times journalist Stephen Jones has called for Fiji to be suspended from rugby ‘at all levels’ following on from the revelation that a convicted rapist was spotted participating in rugby training with a provincial team. In 2019 Fiji Rugby’s chief executive officer John O’Connor stood down Sevens star Amenoni Nasilasila pending a court ruling after he had been charged with rape.

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Nasilasila was subsequently convicted and jailed for raping a 24-year-old woman in Olosara, Sigatoka in 2018. He is currently appealing the sentence of eight years imprisonment with a non-parole period of six years, handed down by the High Court in Lautoka.

However, a controversy has been ignited after Nasilasila participated in rugby training with the Prison Warden’s team and local side Namosi.

The prison warden in question is Fiji Corrections Service Commisioner Commander Francis Kean, who himself has been mired in controversy in the last 12 months. Kean was stood down by the World Rugby Council after it revealed that the convicted killer had made homophobic remarks about prisoners.

Kean, who was convicted of manslaughter after killing a man in 2006, served just three months of an 18-month sentence after the assault which happened at the wedding of one of Prime Minister’s Frank Bainimarama’s daughters a month after Bainimarama seized power in a military coup. 

It was also alleged that Kean used homophobic language in his role in charge of Fiji’s prison service since 2016, with Amnesty International twice criticising Kean’s conduct.

Now outspoken Sunday Times journalist Jones wants Fiji suspended ‘at all levels’ off the back of the Nasilasila’s apparent involvement in rugby.

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Writing in the paper, Jones states: “The picture was striking. Fijian rugby now has a high-performance academy for women, funded by World Rugby and under the managership of one of Fiji’s greatest, Simon Raiwalui. On their first day in the academy, some weeks ago, the players were immaculate in their tracksuits. It was Fijian rugby as we love to regard it: talented and joyous.

“How many of those smiles have already gone from the faces of rugby’s women and their sex in general? While we should admire World Rugby’s initiative, there are clear grounds today for expelling Fiji from the sport at all levels and we unequivocally call upon World Rugby to do so.”

The Corrections Services Director of Rehabilitation Senior Superintendent Salote Panapasa, defended the decision to allow him train with a ‘public team’.

“The Fiji Corrections Service knows what is best for Nasilasila, as we have professional psychologists and counsellors that have assessed him and similarly ensured that that he completed the necessary rehabilitation treatment programs to be eligible for such activities,” Panapasa told The Fiji Times.

Prisoners being allowed to play sports in public is not uncommon in Fiji and Panapasa said that the criticism of the Nasilasila participation was “disheartening and counterproductive”.

“We do not condone the actions of Nasilasila however it is our duty at FCS to positively address his offending behaviour. Nasilasila has displayed the necessary progress expected of him since his incarceration.”

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