At Twickenham, at the weekend, England will play host to Fiji, a rugby nation who over the last twelve months have delighted us all as they won the inaugural Olympics sevens goal medal. If the figures are to be believed, then the Fiji players will be paid over fifty times less than their English counterparts and the fact that the spectators in the stands will have paid more for a ticket than the Fiji players will earn is a travesty.
Whilst I agree with Ian Ritchie, the RFU Chief Executive, that it is not the RFU’s responsibility to fund world rugby I would question why a greater proportion of the match proceeds can’t be handed over to the Fijian team. England have three additional autumn internationals against larger rugby unions and I would expect ticket sales for these matches, along with broadcast rights, would more than compensate for any act of generosity towards their Fijian counterparts.
However, if Fiji, and the rest of the rugby playing Pacific Islands, are to have a chance of growing the game the main responsibility has to come from their closest neighbours, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Over the years the latter two of these nations have pilfered the Pacific Islands for talented players and now it is time to give something back.
From an International point of view in the last four years only Scotland out of the Six Nations teams have not played a match against Fiji whilst only Australia, of the Rugby Championship teams, have met Fiji in the same time period, and that was in a World Cup match. Surely it wouldn’t have hurt the All Blacks, Australia or South Africa to have played a match against one of the Pacific Islands at the end of the Rugby Championship or maybe as a curtain raiser to their Northern Tours?
Domestically also SANZAR could do a lot more for the development of the game in the Pacific Islands, although it must be noted the Chiefs and Crusaders did play a Super Rugby match in Suva last year. With both Argentina and Japan now having Super Rugby teams could a Pacific Island team be a viable option, especially if the ever expanding competition was split into two zones to reduce travel expenses?
Finally, if the game is going to continue to grow World Rugby needs to stand up and recognise the achievements of smaller nations and, as mentioned in previous blogs, the fact Fiji didn’t win a single award for their achievements this year would suggest a review of how these awards are decided.
There is always an underlying rhetoric in the antipodean media of how English rugby has so much money that they need to be putting something back into the game and I agree, in part, with this but before Australia and New Zealand begin to throw stones they need to take a look at their own glass houses because at least England, and the rest of the six nations are willing to give them a game.