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Sewabu and his ideas

Solomoni Biumaiono
Saturday, December 22, 2012

After playing 36 games, winning 27 Test caps and representing Fiji to two Rugby World Cups, Naitasiri man Koli Sewabu has turned his attention to what many Fijian rugby players usually lack, the knowledge to manage their finances.

Sewabu is pursuing his Executive Masters in Business Administration at Massey University in New Zealand and one of his research subjects is rugby players and financial literacy with Pacific Island rugby players.

Preliminary findings from his research show the majority of Pacific rugby players wish they had received financial advice prior to taking up their first rugby contract.

"What is unique about our Pacific players is the cultural component and the obligations we all have to our extended families, part of the study was to explore these different factors and how to make rugby earnings become a sustainable source of living. This means investment is key," Sewabu says.

His findings show the developed rugby nations already offering financial literacy training to their players as part of their professional development.

He adds the topic of financial literacy in relation to Pacific rugby players was something he had been thinking of and talked about ever since he first took up a professional rugby contract with a New Zealand club in 1998.

"I was very young at the time, with no formal qualification and no work and money management experience. So you can imagine where all the money went.

"Throughout my years of playing rugby, I shared stories with a number of players, signing up lucrative contracts internationally but faced major financial drawbacks when contracts ended prematurely from injuries and for other reasons. This occurs because investments are often minimal and contracts are negotiated without looking at what may happen if the contract ends before the expected term.

"The consequences has such a negative impact on their personal lives and their families but could have been avoided if there was proper advice and negotiations before the signing of the contract," Sewabu said.

He says this problem has endured in the 10 years he was playing rugby professionally and adds it is still evident that most of upcoming young players in Fiji and other Pacific Islands face the same problem.

He says culture does play a fair part the ignorance of how to wisely handle finances. Sewabu says Pacific Islanders have been branded as "instant" people who lived for the "now" than for the future because of the demands, family obligations and the players' own societies.

"Rugby players are the same. Most of our boys have little or no formal education. Imagine coming from a village and within days you're in the middle of Paris, earning thousands of dollars a month with all its glitter and glamour. Imagine the transition one has to go through in order to cope with this whole new environment," he said.

He also adds the iTaukei people are still fairly new to the modern monetary economy so the managing and the use of money is something yet to be mastered.

"Also with lack of knowledge comes exploitation. It is said to see that most of our young and upcoming rugby stars are still being exploited by clubs and agents overseas. Because of their lack of knowledge, players are easily swayed to sign offers that do not reflect their true market value," Sewabu said.

To this effect Sewabu formally established his business a year after officially retiring from professional rugby in New Zealand in 2008.

Called Vunilagi Pasifika Limited Sewabu aims to provide Pacific Islands players' management services ranging from recruitment, coaching as well as personal and professional development.

"I must admit going into business with some naivety of how to properly run a business. However, I knew that there were not many Pacific Islanders in the player management market and there is a need for a representative who can relate well to Pacific sports players and can offer them advice from an 'insider' perspective.

"So this year is a big year for me as I have put a proper structure in place and ensure that the business will grow to its capacity," he said.

His company is recruiting players but it's based on the requirements of rugby clubs and also on player availability and his access to these players.

Vunilagi is developing a website which Sewabu hopes to launch next year where both players and clubs simply go online and register in the database.

Another aspect he thinks that he can provide and work for players is that they undergo mentoring where they are provided with the knowledge and build their confidence, especially in negotiation skills.

"Yes, that will be one of the key components of working with players. I can also provide practical training in different settings like in villages, schools and sports level with the hope that by the time rugby players sit at the table to negotiate an offer of employment, they are familiar with the financial implications incorporated within their agreement," he said.

Sewabu says it is part of his services to always advise players of the many obstacles they may face during their professional playing careers, especially in their contracts and the administration of their welfare.

"Yes, not including them as part of my agreement will be like committing a 'sin'. Players come to you for advice and you build some form of trust and respect. I also understand that from a Fijian perspective, our decisions at most times are communal and not individual, so my help is not only for the players themselves but with the hope that what we learn from each other can also empower their families and their communities," the former national looseman said.

He admits though he may not have the answers to all the problems that rugby professional could face in the financially inclined sports world and urges the need for this to be addressed from an early age.

"I must admit that I am not the solution to this wider issue. I believe the education component of money management should start from a very young age, such as including it in the school curriculum from primary level. Financial planning should be explicitly presented as a habit to be developed and adopted.

"As for the business, I hope to work with players hand in hand to a point where they are able to make informed decisions on how they can better manage their own financial needs as a source of sustainable living," Sewabu said.

It is, however, at the back of Sewabu's mind that players themselves should take up the initiative and work out a long-term plan for themselves which can provide a source of income and living for them once they retire from professional sports.

"I would also like to encourage young and upcoming rugby players to earn some form of formal qualification while pursuing their dreams of being a professional rugby player. Rugby cannot be played forever, and is also a high-contact sports in which players are prone to career-threatening injuries.

"It's always handy to have something to fall back on when rugby is finished. Many of our young people see universities or tertiary institutes as a 'no-go-zone' and only a place for academic pursuit.

"Do not settle for mediocrity, and do not put all your eggs in one basket. Aim high and dream big and apply certain rugby skills such as commitment, sacrifice, dedication, self-discipline and hard work to achieve your goals," Sewabu said.

He is optimistic because he thinks one thing rugby players have been taught and learnt through their playing careers around which the game is built is to never give up.

"One great thing about rugby is that it teaches you to be resilient and to turn a negative situation into something positive. So I'm glad to see most of them, players and former players, to have worked really hard to counter their situation."

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