Dan Leo, the former Samoa lock and current player welfare manager for Pacific players based in Europe, believes the game has lost its soul thanks to controversial plans for a 12 team Nations League and a boycott of the World Cup in Japan by Tonga, Fiji and Samoa should be seriously considered.
The Pacific Islands nations would be excluded in favour of involving Japan and USA in World Rugby’s proposal which has triggered a storm of criticism, led by the game’s biggest stars from every major country.“I’d find it hard to believe that Pacific Island teams will turn up for The World Cup knowing that we are being screwed over,” Leo told The Irish Times.
“If I was in the Pacific Island unions now I would very strongly be considering the next course of action if this is the way we are going to be treated. The writing has been on the wall about the priorities and values of the game of rugby, Pacific Islanders have known that for decades. World Rugby are not even trying to hide it anymore. This puts it out there for all to see. We know the game of rugby has sold its soul.
“Imagine how sad it would be for rugby, for the world game to become ‘Our pacific islanders against your pacific islanders?’ England’s Tongans and Samoans against France’s Fijians. Because that’s what the game will become.
“I know there is a huge chunk of support among Pacific Islanders players, even those who play for other nations. That’s where our power lies. The sport has been built on Pacific Island muscle since it went professional. It makes you think, as a player, what leverage do we have? The only leverage we really have is not to play.
“I hope it is not too late to be reversed, especially after all the animosity towards the proposal in the last 24 hours since the plan was leaked. You got to hope common sense will prevail. It’s certainly a cross roads for the future of rugby as a sport.”
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Leo admitted he played rugby for Samoa to raise his profile in the hope of landing a contract overseas which allowed him to continue wearing the national colours and look after his family. “Look, you don’t play for Fiji, Samoa, Tonga for money. You do play for exposure. I played for Samoa because I knew I was guaranteed to play against England, Scotland, Ireland. It was my shop window to get a better club contract.
“We are professionals and we are not getting paid so it has to be about promoting your career, playing with your country yes, but getting a good club contract so you can provide for your family.
“These plans incentivise players not to play for their country. Even if they do come up with a second tier competition none of the players want to stay around for that. Especially if there is no scope for moving up. That would kill the international game on the Pacific Islands.”
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