Samoa Rugby Bankrupt, and Need Long Term Help–Not a Handout

Samoan fullback Tanner Vili
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The reports are sad news for fans of Manu Samoa. The Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi; who is also the chair of the SRU (Samoa Rugby Union) has broken the news that the organization is virtually bankrupt. With debts unpaid, Samoa Rugby need long term help–Not a Handout.

However, this story has been repeated over a period of years. The success of many Samoan teams has too often been ‘hand to mouth’. Their struggles now are similar to 2003 (see main picture) but they need a helping hand now, not a hand out.

So in hearing this news, Last Word on Rugby are sympathetic of players and supporters. Though observers must be critical of the administration. The state of the finances have little to do in playing rugby–but it can surely stop a game quick-smart.

But with a series of matches already fixed in November, the game will gladly ‘keep calm, and carry on’. It does come from an goodwill gesture from England Rugby. They can also sleep well, with an assurance from Scottish Rugby Union that expenses during their visit to Scotland, will be paid by the union.

Samoa Rugby Need Long Term Help–Not a Handout

Those assurances must be respected. And the public support will definitely be evident–appeals are already being devised. But stakeholders are very concerned.

42-test Manu Samoa lock/loose forward Dan Leo now heads up Pacific Rugby Players Welfare. He is certain that the level of support for Pacifica rugby will always show love for the style of rugby played in the Islands. Samoa rugby, Fiji and Tonga are the core of nations that both challenge and entertain all those who play and watch them.

Leo told Rugby Pass “I have a lot of faith in the rugby public, there’s so much good faith out there for the Pacific Islands and the players. Every true rugby supporter I meet wants to see Pacific Island rugby thrive.

No one wants to be the ones to dip their hand into their pockets – so we’re stagnating as a sport.

What seems difficult for stakeholders to comprehend, is the running of the game. The difficulty in management of funds and sponsorship. Frustrations with logistics and the long term planning….but, hasn’t that been addressed before?

Long Term Planning, Better Than a Hand Out

There are good people within Samoa Rugby. No evidence is being made of criminal or gross-improper use of funds. But the inference is that money needed to be managed better. Governance is the keyword, with controls and audits in place.

And those measures, many thought had been addressed in prior times of financial irregularity. The Prime Minister had called for support, with World Rugby and New Zealand Rugby a part of remedies. However, those seem to have failed again.

Tuilapea has said the financial hardship faced by the Union is “not something new, and was the reason behind the government’s attempts to help ease the financial burden”. This included fundraising appeals and a radio-a-thon up in the Islands.

And the good people of Samoa will likely help out. It’s in their nature, but what is really needed, is long term planning.

Large Corporate Could Operate Alongside Samoa Rugby

AIG sponsor the All Blacks. Vista Equity Partners are sponsoring their Northern Tour, while HSBC are the principal sponsor of the World Rugby Sevens Series. These large corporate citizens have the capacity to offer monies to place their name on sports teams jerseys. Rugby, and especially Tier One rugby nations are attractive. Thinking of that type of corporate, what huge benefit would a similar type of organization be able to offer Samoa Rugby in financial planning?

Not only could a sponsor look to brand the team, they might be better to offer consultation on ways and means that SRU could institute more successful processes. While sensitive, it might just take a large corporate to provide the intellectual property, instead of ‘the usual’ dollars and cents.

Dollars are needed–no doubting that–but two factors are key. That the SRU learn to operate within budget. And to the best practices of modern financial reporting (and accountability). Secondly, they need to engage in profit building tours….because the current tour model is not profitable.

Tier Two Nations Find it More Expensive to Tour

If anything is true from the disparity of a tour by Samoa, it is that of a tour by South Africa or New Zealand does not lose money. Their status and popularity brings sponsors and financial backing. Their logistics and management are geared towards working within a budget. External marketing is married to generating profits.

Tier Two rugby nations find that program impossible to match. Even with the popularity of a team like Samoa, financial backing can be hard to generate. So development of those avenues of commercial revenue would provide long term support. Instead, they seem to ‘bleed money’. All too often, they receive a hand out, rather than a hand up.

On top of the commercial benefits of the sponsorship, the education and mentoring of administrators in the Samoa Rugby Union that would bring far more improvements. Effective operations, money-management and investment.

That will be better than buckets circulating around Twickenham [when England play Samoa, on November 18]. Those offers will be great, and if it saw new staffs brought in, improved infrastructure and systems must be set in place to future proof the body.

Players Look Offshore for Financial Security

And every rugby fan who, in finding out that SRU are on the edge of bankruptcy, must feel a sincere empathy for the players. They might now understand why so many players emigrate their talents offshore. They can find more security in earnings potential in French Rugby, or in Super Rugby.

The team is successful during Pacific Nations Cup tournaments. And have reached the quarterfinals of a Rugby World Cup. But when players leave because the union cannot balance it’s books, it can lead to more problems.

The traps that exporting talent can often see, is that that talent might some day play against Samoa. An entirely different argument, and another dysfunction that the game in Samoa all too often faces.

Even as donations and fundraising is urgently made, the appeals are definitely needed as Samoa Rugby are on the verge of bankruptcy. But longer term, if a sponsor were to provide corporate education rather than just a ‘hand out’ it would do a lot of good for the pride of Manu Samoa.