In the Pacific, it’s 1895 all over again!

It has been a policy of mine to not comment on the other code during the duration of their World Cup. ‘Let them get on with it,’ was my view.

But after the wonderful weekend of rugby league we experienced, in contrast to the existential woe which has afflicted the other code (no sniggering at the back, there, please), I have decided to break silence.

Not just because of some of the utterly risible responses to the RFU team’s defeat, and the intellectual contortions performed by otherwise intelligent people as they struggled to blame Sam Burgess and then Andy Farrell.

The most egregious of these was the tweet from Ian Herbert, chief sportswriter for The Independent no less. His tweet about Sam daring to chat to the Wallabies after the game was utterly laughable.

He tweeted: “If only for appearances sake, not quite the moment for Sam Burgess to chat with his Oz mates. Rest of England gutted to a man #engvaus”

Equally laughable was a conspiracy theory I saw online positing that Andy Farrell must have bullied Stuart Lancaster into making all his choices.

I’ve not yet seen anyone blame the 1895 split taking all their best players away, but I do expect to shortly.

But while they’ve all been grooving to ‘world in union’ and stadiums full of drunks who barely know what they’re watching, something darker is unfolding, and it will look very familiar to perceptive students of the history of both codes of rugby.

But it will be especially apposite for rugby league fans.

Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu is a former Samoan international rugby union player and a lawyer. Human rights issues and discrimination, especially in his native Pacific, is the main focus of his work.

In a lengthy recent interview in ‘L’Equipe’ (you can read it HERE), Fuimaono-Sapolu reveals a sorry state of affairs for the 15-man code in the Pacific, with players and the communities which spawn them utterly exploited, and treated in ways which would never happen to the sacred Springboks or All Blacks.

He actually refers to the international rugby union governing bodies as “slave drivers” and called noted union referee Nigel Owens a “racist”. He was subsequently banned for speaking out, something which may resonate with many older rugby league people.

“I never decided to end my career. World Rugby ended it,” he said.

“They emailed a letter to the Samoan Rugby Union advising them to take action against me and pressuring them not to pick me again. I have the letter.

“The judge said I had to give my passport up (to World Rugby). The Rugby Judiciary is not a court of law and it is absolutely pathetic and horribly arrogant that he had the audacity to even contemplate it!

“This is the level of stupidity, arrogance and corruption we are dealing with in rugby. World Rugby is right up there with Fifa in some terms.”

He also explains his charges of corruption and racism in the following terms, in reference to the 2011 rugby union World Cup:

“Teams like Wales and South Africa enjoying eight days rest before games and teams like Samoa and Tonga only having thee days rest.

“The chairman of the Welsh rugby union, David Pickering, was in charge of the referee’s select committee who were responsible for selecting who referees what games.

“And what happened? The chairman of the Welsh rugby union selected a Welsh referee for a game (Samoa vs South Africa) that affected whether or not Wales would make the quarter-finals. I tweeted about the unfair treatment of tier 2 teams, I get banned for six months.”

He also has some harsh words for the All Blacks and how they behaved during the Apartheid era, when he alleges that being paid in diamonds was more important to the New Zealand team than supporting  the struggle against South Africa’s iniquitous regime.

Perhaps more pertinently to now, the lawyer also reveals how players in Samoa have few facilities, and often suffer serious and lasting injury in a country where top level medical care is not available. No help is extended to them from the international rugby union governing body, according to Fuimaono-Sapolu.

“But New Zealand and Australian schools are still doing their yearly grab,” he said.

“There are still barely any medical practitioners at rugby games. There is no CT or MRI machine in Samoa. Many of the young people in the villages have to work and play with undiagnosed injuries and no idea on how to rehabilitate.

“There are paralysed children in Samoa from rugby. So the world wants Samoa to play rugby, wants Samoa to provide them with rugby players, but what is in it for Samoa? What comes back to Samoa?”

So it seems things haven’t changed that much in 120 years after all. Rather than working-class Englishmen from the North, rugby union now exploits Pacific Islanders, taking and giving very little in return.

The game, after all, sprang from the ranks of the men who went to England’s ‘great public (sic) schools’, men who viewed the world as something for them to rule, for the benefit of men like them.

This is the sport that cuddled Apartheid close, and saw Nazism as an opportunity to try and extirpate rugby league in France.

Whatever, that’s them, not us. What this situation does reveal is that there are thousands of talented rugby players in Samoa and other Pacific nations who are crying out to be welcomed into a code which supports, nurtures and develops them into athletes and people; which offers a route to riches and stardom, but also a solid sense of community, as well as a radical tradition of standing up to oppression.

With the NRL expanding second tier clubs into Papua New Guinea and Fiji, surely Samoa and Tonga have to be next?

A Queensland Cup or NSW Cup team  in Samoa would be a good aim. Also, Toa Samoa should play some home tests on the island. The RU team have already done this, playing against the All Blacks no less.

Would it not be great to see the Kangaroos or Kiwis do similar? Or even the New Zealand Warriors playing an NRL game there?

It is time to act. We are the code of the future, the refined, revolutionised form of rugby, the people’s game. Now let’s take this opportunity to act like it, and welcome our Pacific brothers truly into the fold.

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