Fiji’s women’s rugby captain Sereima Leweniqila has called on the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) to pay the Fijiana players what they are owed.
Leweniqila made the call in a Facebook post, prompting fans and some rugby officials to ask why this is happening.
“Do we have to win everytime to be treated right? Could we get paid the amount due to us?” she wrote on Tuesday.
“What does it take for our voices to be heard? Do we always have to fight to get what we deserve? Pay Us What is Due to Us,” she added, and included folded hands, rugby ball and Fiji national flag emojis to her post.
The post, which accompanied by two team photos of the Fijian team has since been shared almost 400 times and received almost 900 reactions.
Leweniqila, who has been part of the Fijiana Drua’s back-to-back Super W winning campaign – is a veteran in Fiji women’s rugby, invovled in the game for over 14 years.
RNZ Pacific has contacted FRU for comment. We have been told a statement will be released on the matter.
But confidential sources have confirmed the players were paid FJD$100 (US$50) per day – below the agreed $300 (US$150) – for the Test match against the Australian Wallaroos and the Oceania Women’s Rugby Championship in May.
That was $200 (US$100) short per day for each player for the two events.
The FRU had received $80,000 (US$40,000) in bonus payment from the Fijiana Drua’s main sponsor, Rooster Chicken. This was for the team’s participation at the Super W Competition this year.
Fiji Cabinet approved a payment of $F8,000(US$4,000) each to the players and management following the Fijiana Drua’s successful defence of the Super W title.
Mobile company Vodafone came on board with a sponsorship of $3.1 million (US$1,55 million) prior to the Test match against the Australian Wallaroos, with a total of $300,000 paid to the FRU for the international commitments.
Former FRU chief executive officer Charlie Charters said he was at a loss as to why player payments were not being done efficiently by the union.
Charters said local players were being paid a “modest” income, compared to what semi and professional players in overseas teams were paid.
“The thing most right-thinking rugby fans will be shocked by is that we are not talking large sums of money,” Charters told RNZ Pacific.
“The daily allowances that are owed a very modest sums, especially when compared with the semi and fully professional sides that the Fijiana are being asked to beat.”
Charters said Leweniqila has a lot of courage to make a heartfelt plea for the payment of the overdue allowances.
Charters served as FRU’s marketing manager and then CEO in the late 90’s and early 2000.
He said local member unions and fans could not do much in their call for changes because of the interim management system put in place by government, accepted by World Rugby, to address issues at Rugby House.
He said there is no power with the provincial unions to make any changes now.
“FRU seems to have entered into the worst of both worlds,” he said.
“The actions of the minister of justice in late April basically mean there is no functioning oversight by the provincial unions who are the ultimate owners of Fiji rugby,” he said.
“Even if every rugby fan and provincial union wants to press for urgent change, the government and the minister of justice have removed all the constitutional levers that could deliver that.”
He said he felt the FRU situation could become a political issue now, especially with the involvement of the government.
Former Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was FRU president until two months ago when Justice Minister Siromi Turaga declared FRU was not operating according to the Charitable Trust Act.
Bainimarama and his board members were forced to resign and make way for new trustees selected by Turaga.
“I don’t know about doomed but when people voted for change in December 2023, they were also voting for change at the FRU as the FRU was clearly a personal Bainimarama project,” Charter claimed.
“I bet they [Fijians] did not expect that this would be what change looked like: even less transparency and oversight and basic professionalism than under Bainimarama.
“But ultimately this can be a political issue. Are we willing to put up with this?”
Meanwhile, Suva Rugby Union – the biggest provincial union – secretary is calling on the local media to ask FRU the hard questions.
Speaking in support of the Fijiana captain Leweniqila, Nemani Tuifagalele said FRU needed to come out clean and called for an independent audit to be conducted.
Tuifagalele said it was disheartening to see players coming out in public about their issues because FRU was not handling the matters well.
“Journalists should ask FRU the hard questions against their audited books. The FRU received $21 million (US$10.5 million) in 2022 and spent $22m (US$11 million). How come that happened?
“How did FRU spend monies it received as grants and sponsorship? What is the quality of its auditor? Did the auditor follow the audit rules or bent it in favour of its client?”
He said the Flying Fijians also spent $6m(US$3 million) in a non-World Cup year.
“How did it accumulate such an exorbitant expense? Why are the national teams not being paid allowances? What is wrong?”
“Why didn’t the Finance team alert management when FRU was in red zone? How is the high-performance unit funding and spending managed?” he asked.
“We need to stop these unscrupulous dealings by dodgy, shady and villainous people who worked there for their own interest,” he added.
A team of Trustees are now tasked with getting the FRU to be legally compliant and financially audited.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS