Super W champions taken in by strangers as money troubles hit Fiji rugby

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Defending Super W champions the Fijiana Drua were forced to rely on Brisbane families to feed them in the lead-up to a crunch game against the Reds last week, while a training centre in northern NSW is still chasing a six-figure invoice for hosting the Drua men’s team in 2021 as financial troubles hit Fijian rugby.

The FRU on Monday admitted some cash flow “challenges” had affected its champion women’s team, thanking the Brisbane rugby community and Rugby Australia for stepping in to make sure the players were taken care of when a restaurant refused to continue to feed the team last week.

On the same day Fijian media reported the FRU was set to post a (FJD$1.3 million(AUD$900,000) loss for the 2022 financial year, it emerged that RA had to pay the catering bill at Brisbane Holiday Village on behalf of the Fijiana Drua, while the team relied on the generosity of the rugby and wider Fijian community to feed them in the three days leading up to their match in Brisbane.

The Herald can also reveal that the men’s Super Rugby team, the Drua, which operates as a separate entity and is owned by the Fiji Government and the FRU, has not yet paid off a six-figure accommodation bill from a NSW Government-owned sports and recreation centre at Lennox Head.

Drua chief executive Mark Evans would not comment on the matter when contacted by the Herald but two sources within the organisation confirmed the club had agreed a payment plan with the Lake Ainsworth Sport and Recreation Centre and was on track to have it paid off by the end of the Super Rugby Pacific season in June.

The women’s plight was brought to light on social media when a Brisbane woman put out a call for meals the night before the team’s crunch game against the Reds.

“Last night my family fed the Fijian Drua womens (sic) rugby team…as the restaurant they normally have their meals had shut the door on them…as FRU weren’t paying…we had plans to feed htem on Thur…which was very lucky as the girls wouldn’t have their dinner,” the woman wrote.

“We are feeding them again for dinner today and tomorrow and Sunday breakfast…and Sunday after the game they are coming to Annerley for late lunch….and ready to travel to Fiji on midnight flight.

“Any help of food or donation would go straight to their meals.”

The FRU issued a written statement on Monday, saying the Australian Government’s department of foreign affairs and RA had brought the matter to its attention.

“FRU is responsible for looking over the general logistics of any team traveling (sic) overseas. These include players allowance, accommodation, meals and any other associated costs,” acting chief executive Sale Sorovaki said.

“We would like to make it clear that all contracted players have been paid up until now.

“I admit that we have had some challenges regarding our financial processes which had a direct effect on the Fijiana Drua. These have been highlighted to us by DFAT through Rugby Australia which monitors this financial assistance, and FRU is trying its utmost to improve on it.

“We are grateful to the Australian Government through the Vuvale Partnership which allows our Fijiana Drua Womens Team to participate in the Super W Competition.

“To the Fijian families that have assisted the Fijiana Drua with meals and other support, FRU is eternally grateful to you for using your own hard-earned resources to help in the time of need towards our ladies and management.

“We may not be able to repay you, however, we are deeply grateful for your kind gesture and support to our fellow Fijians at a time when they needed it the most. We pray that God’s blessings and provisions be upon each family who helped.”

The women lost 45-22 against the Reds on Sunday but have still qualified for the Super W semi-finals and will play competition leaders the Waratahs at Concord Oval on Sunday afternoon.

Both the men’s and women’s Drua sides have endured a tough start to their Super Rugby chapters. The coronavirus pandemic forced the men’s team, Fiji’s first professional 15-a-side outfit, to relocate at short notice to Lennox Heads in November 2021 in the lead up to their Super Rugby debut. They based themselves there, sacrificing any home games, until the floods that devastated the northern rivers region forced them to move north to the Gold Coast halfway through the season.

At home, finally, this season, the Drua achieved a historic win against the Crusaders in Lautoka and have fought hard to overcome language and cultural barriers as a team of Fijian-raised and -based players.

The Fijiana Drua are wholly operated by the FRU, an organisation hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. In a report on the Fiji Village website, the governing body posted a $1.1 million(US$5550,000) reversal in its financial position from 2021, fuelled by an exodus of sponsorship revenue. Fiji Airways was its major partner, an airline grounded during the pandemic.

The financial losses have pushed FRU member Suva Rugby Union to file a motion of no confidence against four of the FRU’s five directors ahead of Saturday’s annual general meeting.

SOURCE: SMH/PACNEWS