The rugby hypocrisy continues [The Fiji Times, 17 March 2006]
Two more years have gone by, since the application by the Pacific Islanders (Fiji,Samoa andTonga) to join the Super 12 competition was rejected. Yet another two teams fromAustralia andSouth Africa were accepted (to make it Super 14).
The Australian and NZ governments went “Tut tut. Sorry, nothing we governments can do. Purely commercial decision. And it’s just a game”.
What hypocrisy! What ruthless colonial behaviour!
What lack of vision for a genuine Pacific community, integrated not just through trade, but the sporting glue that binds together the diverse peoples of our planet, as equals.
For decades now,Australia and NZ, as “donors”, have thrust economic advice down our throats.
You must have free trade, free competition. Stop the protection of local industries so consumers can have better choice (including better Australian and NZ goods). Focus on “comparative advantage” – “do what you are good at”.
But when it comes to the Super 14 rugby industry, these principles are kicked right out of the grounds.
Competitive Pacific Islanders
All know that Fijians, Samoans and Tongans have a comparative advantage in rugby. Look at the endless stream of our stars that play in the Super 14.
All know that our Pacific Islanders team, despite its lack of preparation and resources, has already proven its “competitiveness” with the Super 14 teams, even beating a few.
But sorry, our team cannot be allowed into the Super 14. We keep getting rejected by the Australian and NZ monopolies and guilds, supposedly, on “commercial” grounds.
But the Super 14 home matches of their smaller teams don’t make much money either. And that has never been an argument for shutting them down, has it?
And how can the Australian and NZ governments claim they cannot interfere in rugby, when they intervene daily in and for virtually every industry, including sports and rugby which receives huge public funding?
Restrictive Trade Practice
While preaching free trade to us, the Australian and NZ governments turn a blind eye to their own restrictive trade practice in rugby.
Annually, the best raw talent fromFiji,SamoaandTongaare snared by the Australian and NZ rugby unions but our finished product, the Pacific Islanders team is excluded.
If our players want to be considered for the All Blacks, they have to give up their availability for theIslandnations- restrictive trade by any interpretation. Tough luck if the poor boys don’t actually make it to the All Blacks.
End result: theIslandrugby nations are deprived of some their brightest stars, when it comes to national duty, including the World Cup.
Our national teams then don’t do well at the World Cup, where the Australians and New Zealanders proudly “prove” their supremacy by thrashing the “second tier” teams, who have not got their best players, and who have not been able to benefit from being part of the competitive Super 14.
A Pacific rugby vision?
Why cannot the donors see the potential economic benefits of including a Pacific Islander team in their Super 14 competition?
Their “home” matches, in rotation inFiji,TongaandSamoa, would not only generate large economic benefits for the players and rugby infrastructure, but hugely benefit the tourism industries (on which our future rests – as all donors admit).
Their 5 star resorts could give subsidized accommodation to the visiting teams, as part of the Super 14 deal. There could be special packages for the hordes of rugby supporters fromAustralia, NZ and the Pacific countries themselves.
The television coverage of the rugby stars around the resorts, the great sandy beaches, the gorgeous reefs, would alone provide a huge boost to island tourism.
Imagine the excitement for the world viewers of rugby to see Super 14 matches rotated in the exotic Pacific islands?
And it would be competitive
The Pacific Islanders do not want automatic entry. A the end of the season, they can challenge the last two Super 14 teams fromAustralia and NZ.
If they win either, the Pacific Islanders go in. And after that they will be subject to the same rules as the others.
This is what happens to the South African Super 14 teams. The same thing happens in English soccer.
The fear of being relegated provides a phenomenal catalyst to encourage all teams to fight to the bitter end, to the last game of the year.
Lack of visionary leaders? Or is racism against the Islanders
The Australian and NZ governments assist the less developed parts of their own countries with investment in infrastructure (including sports) to try to integrate them into their national economy and society. It is always a slow process and there continue to be weaknesses in their regional development policies.
So why cannot they do the same to assist the Pacific Islanders to join the Super 14? Especially when it makes such economic sense for theIslandeconomies?
And what about the cliché “nations that play together, bond together”?
Aaah. But we forget. Fifty years ago, rugby was also one common bond of the “pioneering” white races of New Zealand,AustraliaandSouth Africa.
Their alleged pioneering spirit was not only in taming undeveloped colonial lands but also subjugating the indigenous “inferior” black races ( a few of whom have crept into the noble game).
We also forget that the current perennial Forum Leaders’ meetings at five star resorts and the regional organisations who service them, are financed ultimately by the “donors”.
So the only times that Howard andClarksit down together with the islands’ brown and black leaders are as “superior donors” and “inferior recipients”. Never as “equals”.
But they would not feel very superior, would they, if they were sitting together withIslandleaders, watching not just one Jonah Lomu, but a whole Pacific Islander team beat the stuffing out their Australian or NZ Super 14 team?
Perhaps that’s the heart of the matter. Not economics and commerce. But the remnants of an old racism, pure and simple, towards thePacificIslands.
In race relations,New Zealandhas come a long way since the bad old days. Australiahas barely moved.
But deep down, as in their economic and political relations, Australian and NZ political leaders just have no vision of a future in which all Pacific Islanders, rich and poor, skilled and unskilled, are genuinely equal members of a South Pacific community.