Pacific Island rugby groups are calling for greater representation on the World Rugby Council, saying that the Pacific barely has a voice on the governing body despite Pacific Islanders making up one in five players.
- Pacific Islanders are 15 per cent of the teams but only a fraction of the votes
- Previous governance and financial issues have held Pacific Island groups back
- Voting allocates more votes to certain countries over to others under a tier system
As it stands, the Islands' influence at the top table is limited to a share of Oceania Rugby's two of 48 votes with the umbrella organisation also representing the interests of New Zealand and Australia.
The group Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) has launched a social media drive called #SeatsAtTheTable to support the push for greater representation.
At the 2015 Rugby World Cup 21.4 per cent of all players were of Pacific Island descent, with 15 per cent of those players representing Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.
The push comes after South African comedian Trevor Noah caused a global stir for highlighting the diverse racial make up of France's victorious FIFA World Cup Team, saying it was really a win for Africa.
'We'd like to see a fairer model in line with FIFA's'
The founder and chief executive of Pacific Rugby Players Welfare — former Manu Samoa international Dan Leo — told the ABC they would like to see reform of the whole system.
"In some cases you've got countries that have three full votes and wield up to 10 per cent influence, and then you've got the Pacific Islands who have point three of a per cent," Mr Leo said.
"We'd like to see a fairer model in line with what FIFA operate.
Key grievances of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare group
- Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji share just two of the 48 total votes with 9 other countries from the Oceania region.
- This includes Australia and New Zealand, both of whom have three votes of their own each.
- The three Pacific Island nations' vote share is equal to just one per cent of the total vote of the World Rugby Council.
- Meanwhile, they say countries like Canada, Georgia, Romania, and the US each hold more than two per cent influence.
- Japan, with two votes to itself, holds 12 times the influence of Samoa. Yet Samoa provides more than 10 times the amount of professional players.
- Italy, 14th in world rankings — five places lower than Fiji and two lower than Tonga — has 7.1 per cent of the vote, or 20 times that of Fiji and Tonga.
"It wouldn't be a one country, one vote system, not immediately anyway, but it could be based on World Cup qualifications."
World Rugby have rejected the push for greater representation, and said that World Cup qualification is already part of the existing tier voting system, which they've maintained is a clear, transparent, and fair pathway to securing votes on the World Rugby Council.
But critics argue that when it comes to matters of finance and governance, the rules are weighted against the Pacific unions.
Rules put Pacific unions at disadvantage, critics say
Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele told the ABC last year that the Samoan Rugby Union (SRU) was bankrupt.
However the SRU's Chief Executive, Vincent Fepuleai, said while they might be cash poor, they've managed to meet World Rugby Council's criteria.
"We believe we have ticked the boxes that World Rugby has set for the three Pacific Island unions, and we are just going through the process of preparing our application for a seat in council," he said.
Rugby Players Association CEO Aayden Clarke praised the current leadership of the SRU.
"Vincent's done some fantastic work overhauling SRU's governance," he said.
"They're going to get that seat on the council by merit, not through a campaign."
After Oceania Rugby's annual review in Sydney, it appears Fiji is also on target for a council seat.
Mr Fepuleai said he supported the PRPW's social media push but did not believe it was necessary.
"We've engaged with Daniel Leo, and we wish him well on his campaign, but definitely Samoa Rugby Union, we have our own representatives, " he said.
A strong case to reassess?
Mr Clarke said Mr Leo's organisation have a case to win a vote on the World Rugby Council.
"From World Rugby's perspective I suppose they want to maintain the integrity of the game in terms of which people are in those seats", he said.
"But whether that's right or wrong, I think Pacific Rugby Players Welfare have a good point in terms of the system possibly needs to be revisited.
"The more we have former players like Dan speaking their mind, that's great. For us to have these issues discussed and at the forefront, that's fantastic. What we've got to be careful of it's a social media campaign, and sometimes it can be detrimental to the process."
However Mr Leo argues that process still leaves the Pacific Islands short on power.
"We really want to step the campaigning up and achieve fairness and equity for the Pacific Islands. It's an education process, a slow burner, but it does feel like we're getting somewhere now," he said.
Comment has been sought from the World Rugby Council.