Sport Rugby

Thursday 2 October 2014

Billy Keane: Pillaging of Fijian players brings shame on the game

Published 17/11/2012 | 05:00

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Some of these proud island men have travelled thousands of miles to be here. Places to go before I die? Thomond Park is very much a 'stadium to play before I retire'.

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Yet this fixture between Ireland and Fiji is so friendly a friendly that no caps will be awarded, which is an insult to Fiji and Limerick at the same time. What is Thomond then? A second-class rugby ground? Who are the Fijians? Second-class rugby citizens.

The scouts come from all over the world. The big men from the big clubs are on the lookout for talented young schoolboys. The Pied Pipers will make the youngsters into stars. Many of the kids will return home broken and forlorn. Does that sound familiar?

Take a trip to the underage soccer All-Ireland in Limerick for the Kennedy Cup. It's a numbers game. English clubs ship over cargoes of kids hoping one or two will make it. I've heard stories of young boys who couldn't even get on the first team at club level being exported to make up quotas.

At least the few Irish kids who make it in England get to play for their own country. The English and French rugby club academies take the imported stock and turn them into little Englishmen and Frenchmen.

Then again, the English and the French have been robbing other countries national treasures for hundreds of years. It is not by accident London has the most plunderful museums in the world.

Our Ruaidhri O'Connor highlighted the injustice in the Irish Independent earlier this week. He quoted Fijian coach Inoke Male: "Young players now want to pursue options for other countries rather than coming on tour and that is not a good sign.

"England and France already have a number of players to choose from and for players to be poached from a small country is not acceptable.

"If you go to the secondary school championships you will see scouts from Australia, New Zealand and England trying to find your players who want to go overseas. They are taking our young players like vultures."

It seems the International Rugby Board (IRB) are investigating the matter. This is essentially asset-stripping and the plunderers should be severely punished.

Many of the Fijian players have signed contracts but are unaware they contain clauses forbidding them to play with their country. The clubs are usually short of key players during the international windows. Points can be lost and there's a lot of money at stake. And don't tell me it's the players' choice to turn their backs on the land of their birth.

The IRB must demand to see the players' contracts. It is also incumbent upon the ruling body to pursue the English and French clubs in the courts.

The IRB are not without sin. Fiji have played 16 internationals since their last trip here in 2009, Ireland have played 35. Call that fair play? Is it a level playing pitch? About as level as a tilted pinball machine.

The ancien regime still rules.

Fijian players may even have been stopped from playing for their country in the World Cup. If true, that's about as low as it gets in sport.

The crime against sport, and I use the words deliberately, is when a big country targets kids from a smaller country and turns the players away from their native land and their families. Their playing colleagues from other nations have shown a distinct lack of courage and empathy. There should be a strike. Or is it every man for himself? It seems like that right now. The Fijian exiles make money. Lots more than they would make at home and we do not begrudge them a single penny. Professional rugby players are taxed their entire career; physically, as well as financially. In 20 years' time, some study from an eminent neurosurgeon or orthopaedist will tell us what we know already. Shock horror! The players must think of their futures, but at what price?

It's not like a writer who writes a terrible book and can make up for it with the next one. The Fijians who have been sold down the river by the rugby overlords and their own club-mates will never be able to roll back the years. There will be no jerseys or caps to show to their grandkids at story time on balmy nights in Suva.

I have heard Irish emigrants tell of lonesome nights in the Bronx and they were comforted by the thought the very moon that lit their way home from a long shift was shining bright over Ireland. We have much in common with our island brothers.

You can be sure, too, the Fijian exiles pine for home and the chance to wear their nation's jersey with pride and without fear of reprisal.

Shame on all of you who have participated and colluded in the destruction of a little nation.

Irish Independent

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