Bankrupt Samoa to face World Rugby scrutiny

Wellington (AFP) –


World Rugby said Thursday it will look at the game's governance in Samoa after administrators in the Pacific nation admitted they were bankrupt and could not pay their bills.

Samoa Rugby Union (SRU) chairman Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegao pleaded with the public for financial support this week, launching a fund-raising radio phone-in.

"We are bankrupt. In other words we are insolvent," Malielegao, who is also the country's prime minister, told the Samoa Observer.

"It means the union cannot continue to pay off our debts with the banks. We also need money to pay the players so they can continue to play."

Samoan rugby has been dogged by claims of mismanagement and political interference for years.

A report penned by former national captain Mahonri Schwalger after the 2011 World Cup accused management of being unprofessional and treating the tournament like a holiday.

Then in 2014, players threatened to boycott Samoa's Test against England at Twickenham due to lack of financial transparency and poor treatment by management.

At the time, Malielegao dismissed the player complaints as the "opinions of little kids".

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said his organisation would examine SRU's problems.

"There may be some governance issues here that we need to take a closer look at," he told Sky Sports UK.

"They have occurred in the past and we've sat down with them and helped them in different ways to get themselves back on their feet."

- 'Insufficient money' -

But Gosper warned the SRU could not simply expect a handout, saying World Rugby was already the largest financial contributor to the sport in the Pacific island nations of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.

He said it had budgeted about £7 million ($9.2 million) for Samoan rugby between 2015 and 2019, up 30 percent on the previous four-yearly World Cup cycle.

While the three Pacific nations have a wealth of playing talent, they have all experienced financial issues in recent years.

The problem is partly mismanagement, but they also lack the sponsorship opportunities and huge support bases enjoyed by larger nations.

Gosper said 90 percent of rugby's revenue was generated by the 10 tier one nations.

"It's a fact of life. There's an economic difference in the unions in some parts of the world versus the unions in other parts of the world," he said.

"There isn't sufficient money to create the redistribution that may well lead to an equalisation of pay. There are market forces that are very hard to swim against."

One solution floated is giving sides such as Samoa a share of gate takings when they tour wealthy nations such as Britain.

England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) makes an estimated £10 million when a Test at the 80,000-plus capacity Twickenham stadium is sold out, but the touring side receives nothing.

"This is something that we can look at, but it's something the tier ones are very nervous about because they don't want to set precedents," Gosper said.

Samoa play Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday and England at Twickenham on November 25.

Ahead of the England match, the RFU have reportedly agreed to give Samoa £75,000 ($98,300) from the gate takings.