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Colonialism again, rugby style [The Fiji Times, 25 July 2004]


So SANZAR has turned down the possibility of the Pacific Islanders team being allowed to join the Super 12 competition?

And we all thought that the days of nasty colonialism by the big countries was gone, didn’t we?

When the big ruling countries extracted raw materials for their own factories, employing their own labour, manufacturing finished products which they then sold in their own countries and the rest of the world.

When the imperial masters prevented manufacturing plants being set up in the colonies- otherwise their supplies of raw materials might dry up.

And they did not care for decades that the colonies stagnated- except for the few who served the imperial interests.

Well, those colonial days are here again- in rugby.

A proven Pacific Island product- the Pacific Islanders Team- is being kept out of the lucrative Super 12 market by protectionist, guild, cartel behavior on the part of Australia, NZ and South Africa, against all the WTO principles of open competition and free trade.

Rugby in the Pacific countries themselves stagnates because of a lack of funds, because of a lack of international competition on a regular basis. And the only way up for the Pacific rugby stars, is to migrate out of the Pacific.

And the Australian and NZ teams continue to plunder the Pacific Islands talented raw materials for themselves.

How long will this continue?

And what are the Australian and NZ governments and their respective aid arms in the Pacific (AusAID and NZODA) doing about it?  What are the Fiji-Australia and Fiji-NZ Business Councils doing about it?  Nothing much.

But they pontificate to the  Pacific about the value of free trade with Australia and NZ through agreements such as PACER.  About the great objective of building on the Pacific community concept.

And academic “Don Quixote” advisers like Professor Helen Hughes gallop around the Pacific tilting at “failed state” windmills, preaching about the failure of Australian and NZ aid, and hectoring Islanders that they have not been focused enough on exports and free trade.

Hey, forget aid, what about honest free trade and open competition in rugby?

Proven competitiveness

  We know there is no level rugby playing field for the Islanders- look at the deficiencies in their rugby grounds, training equipment, and coaching and physiotherapy staff; the lack of financial sponsorships, the poor pay for players who are largely part-time, and the lack of international competition.

Yet despite these odds, who doubts today the Pacific Islanders team has proven itself to be competitive- at the highest Test level in the world, against the mighty Wallabies, the All Blacks and the Springboks.

Although the Islanders lost all three games, the margins weren’t big, and they won the grudging respect of all three opponents, and even drew a pitiful whinge or two about their tough tackles.

And we forget so quickly that the Pacific Islanders actually won against the Super 12 giants- the Queensland Reds and the NSW Warratahs.  And it is the Super 12 competition which the Pacific Islanders are trying to enter.

And it would seem that SANZER will succeed in keeping them out- allegedly on financial grounds.

Rugby colonialism

  For more than a decade, Australian and NZ teams have happily extracted the talented Pacific raw materials for their teams.

It used to be a small stream- the Jennings, Williams and a few others. But with the phenomenal international success of Jonah Lomu, the stream became a raging river.

Fijians Vidiri, Rokocoko, Tuqiri, Samo, Tabua; Samoans Tuigamala, Jones, Baschop, To’onu, Umaga, Tuitupou, Timu; Tongans Kefu and Ofahenague.

The individual Islander raw materials continue to be extracted for Australian and NZ Super 12 and national Test rugby teams, but the combined Pacific Islander team is kept out.

Anti-competition, anti-free trade

  This is blatant trade protectionism, opposed to all the WTO principles of free trade and open competition that Australia and NZ claim to believe in. And it is not just a matter of sport- it is big business.

Throughout the Pacific hundreds of thousands of households plan their weekends around the TV broadcasts of Super Twelve matches, while hundreds of thousands actually attend the games in Australia, NZ and South Africa.

It generates billions of dollars annually- for the rugby players, the rugby unions, the sports equipment companies,  advertising companies, and all the spin-off industries.

But the benefits are not available for the Islands.

The development benefits

  The Pacific Islands, as aid advisors like to tell us, have very few areas of comparative advantage on which they can build their future economic growth and development.

Tourism is one, and rugby is another, and the two can be combined in rugby.

Imagine a Pacific Islander team playing “home” matches in rotation in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.  Generating probably the largest gate takings ever, in each of these three countries.

To reduce playing costs in the islands, local tourist industries would give subsidised accommodation to the visiting teams at five star resorts.

Television cameras from Australia and NZ would follow the stars around the resorts (imagine the advertising benefits), the sandy beaches, the reefs and seas, followed no doubt by myriads of island beauties.

Could there be more effective tourism advertisements for the host country, during the televising of the Super 12 matches with the Pacific Islanders team?

The Pacific Community spirit

  For a decade, there has been talk of economic and political integration between Australia and NZ on the one hand and the Pacific Islands, and amongst themselves.

But most Pacific Islands are normally at each others’ throats, fighting for “jobs for the boys” in the regional and international organisations.  And they all fear the fall-outs from economic integration in goods and services- whether through PICTA or PACER.

While the ordinary Pacific public have not given a damn about economic integration, their imagination and attention  have for months been riveted on the establishment, preparation, and performance of the Pacific Islander team.

There has been a genuine coming together. In the very same way that Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana and the other small Caribbean islands have always united under their “West Indian” cricket team.

The rugby industry and trade, could be the one Pacific wide link which binds the Pacific community together, if Australia and NZ had the vision and the political will.

And Australia and NZ?

  All agree that the Pacific Islanders have a comparative advantage in rugby.  They are not asking for favours or aid in rugby.  They are even prepared to sacrifice any share in the massive advertising revenues that the SANZAR countries enjoy.

All they want is genuine free trade, open and fair competition in the Super 12.

It is time that the Australian and NZ governments, their aid organisations (AusAID and NZODA), their business councils with the Pacific, and their vociferous economic policy advisers, put their money where their mouths are.

It is time that Australia and NZ ended their rampant colonial exploitation of Pacific Islanders in rugby.

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