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The bid and its consequences

Culden Kamea
Saturday, February 03, 2018

If it ever needed to be explained why Ben Ryan was unwilling to carry on as coach of the Fiji 7s team, the events of the past two weeks should make it crystal clear.

After Ryan saw his Fiji 7s project through to its victorious conclusion — winning Olympic Gold in Rio 2016, he couldn't stomach the thought of another four years under the group at rugby house.

So it must have been with some wariness that Ryan returned to Fiji as a guest of the Mana Whey Fiji Coral Coast 7s a couple of weeks ago where to some local reporters, Ryan made some challenging observations about the Fiji Rugby Union's latest planned adventure with taxpayer money; saying that a bid for a HSBC World Rugby Series tournament to be hosted in Fiji shouldn't cost $1 million.

Adding that the bid was put together by the same people who were involved in a claimed $12 million a year Fiji International expense to Fiji's taxpayers at Natadola Bay Championship Golf course.

And then Ryan waited.

Only after the local media reported nothing of what he said did Ryan list several key criticisms and post them on Facebook. That was last Tuesday. By Tuesday this week, Ryan's post has more than 500 comments, has been shared 1700 times and liked by almost 6000 people.

Incredibly then, despite all of this public interest, the local media waited again throughout the whole of Tuesday and Wednesday.

In fact they waited until the FRU had readied its politely-worded but dismissive rebuttal issued on Thursday.

I like to think that at least some of the media were ashamed about the next step: that there was at least a tug of their conscience about going into full-on attack mode against Ryan.

Think about it — we're talking Ryan here.

Remember only three named figures have appeared on a Fiji coin since independence: Queen Elizabeth II, Ratu Seru Cakobau and Ben Ryan and only two on a current bank note — Ryan and Osea Kolinisau.

Friday was when the FRU got its counter claim in that Ryan's figures were grossly exaggerated.

The Fiji Sun's Leone Cabenatabua, who had called for Ryan to be sacked five months before he won Rthe io Olympic gold, editorialised that "Ryan is entitled to his opinion but a show of maturity on his part would have gone a long way. The true motive behind his posting is only best known to him."

Cabenatabua added, "had high hopes after Olympic glory that he could fulfil his dream, but somehow things have not worked out for him in fifteens rugby."

FM96's Vijay Narayan called for Ryan to "give us proof … to ensure that it is not just a claim on social media but that it is backed with true and actual facts and figures."

So here are observations in support of Ben Ryan. Not because I think he got all of his points completely right. For instance Ryan had written: "Why are they wasting money with radio adverts etc?"

The local media have been quick to point out that their advertising contribution has been granted free of charge.

If there was one thing that both Narayan and Cabenatabua focused in on it was this point, that their support was free, with the hope that it invalidated everything. Fiji Broadcasting Corporation pretty much said the same.

But this was just a single sentence in one of several serious accusations made by Ryan.

One of Ryan's broader points was that using the local media to energise rugby fans was a waste of time: That Fijians love 7s rugby is self-evident; witness the Sydney 7s last weekend.

Besides, World Rugby is more interested in issues around the infrastructure side of Fiji hosting a HSBC 7s tournament;

* Whether the stadium can handle the international media broadcast requirements?

* Whether Suva can comfortably accommodate all the players and match officials plus handle all the ground travel logistics?

* Whether the power supply to ANZ Stadium is stable? and

* The attractiveness of the Stadium to World Rugby's existing sponsors etc.

These fundamentals are the things that are going to win or sink Fiji's bid.

So instead of demanding Ryan provides them all of the facts and figures, some of our local media should do that thing they are paid to do called journalism and go and ask some questions of the Fiji Rugby Union.

Like who are all the expats directly involved in preparing the FRU bid?

A bit of desk-top research will reveal:

Brian Thorburn, the former CEO of the Australasian PGA Tour, is responsible for Fiji hosting the $12m-a-year Fiji International golf tournament at Natadola.

The FRU hired Thorburn's company on a six-month consultancy in May last year. His contract was recently rolled over for another six months, which would cover the completion of Fiji's HSBC 7s bid submission and the follow-up process until the successful tournaments are announced in June this year. Thorburn's consultancy company is 24/7 Sport.

Greg Peters, the former CEO of the Wellington Hurricanes and then SANZAR, became head of the UAR — Argentina's equivalent of the FRU in May 2015. He left this position in December 2016, but is retained as a consultant to the UAR to assist with commercial matters. Peters' consultancy is through Forefront Sports and Media

Peters was introduced to the Fiji media by O'Connor and Thorburn at a press conference on January 17. The same media that decided that there was no need to query bid costs; How much are these expats costing? Where is all the bid funding coming from?

Luke Matthews is described in the Fiji media as the FRU's head of sponsorship. The Australian has been quoted in 7s bid stories relating to a signature drive and securing footage from Roy Krishna.

Unhelpfully The Fiji Times spelt his name Luke Matt, and the Fiji Sun Luke Mathews. But a Google search of his name shows his links to a sports data company called Sportsyear where he was/is the business development manager, and Meridian Corporate which he apparently owns.

Other than in this 7s role, Matthews has not been introduced to the Fiji media and his appointment was not put in any FRU media release.

To be clear, these are all well-regarded and capable professionals who will do a good job, but believe me they won't be doing any of this work for free.

You would have expected any self-respecting journalist to have asked the one million dollar question by now - Ketna boss?

To at least three sets of consultancy fees from professionals at the top of their game, you have to add travel, accommodation and all of their other rechargeable expenses to make a stab at the answer. Which, more than the exact dollars and cents of the thing - was Ben Ryan's main point.

As Ryan also said, employing a string of overseas consultants is 'hugely excessive and a massive waste of money. What are they spending it all on? The bid should cost zero dollars to put together as it's a process that can be done using FRU staff and their internal resources'.

Can Ben Ryan or anyone else outside Rugby House prove that all of this is costing $1 million? In terms of invoices and receipts, no but in terms of gut feeling, yes.

Remember the Fiji 7s bid was actually launched in August last year.

Three hundred guests were at the cocktail and lavish gala dinner at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva that officially launched the bid, when Prime Minister Bainimarama, as President of the Fiji Rugby Union, first urged rugby fans to register at

And we know from the FRU's own comments that it was also back in August last year when they approached Ryan for his support. Since the launch, in November, World Rugby has also acknowledged the FRU's written expression of interest and allowed the FRU to access the bidding documents.

So someone has been writing cheques for this project since at least August 2017 and it's quite obvious that more cheques have got to be written fast.

In fact at that same press conference on January 17, O'Connor admitted only 'a few thousand Fijians' had registered their support in the five months since the launch of the website.

A few thousand was not what they want if the key message is to be believed — that Fiji is the home of 7s.

The bid team are hoping for 200,000-300,000 registrations by February 28 if their bid story is to be credible. So under hastily drawn-up plans, the bid taskforce have put together a costly roadshow that will travel the length and breadth of the country generating support over the next six weeks.

In addition, the bid will have booths at the remaining major 7s events between now and the close of the bid process. They've also had to throw in an expensive return trip for two to Hong Kong for this year's sevens plus four nights' accommodation to try to win people's flagging interest and get people to register on the website.

Again, all of these things cost money.

And you rather get the sense that five months since the GPH launch that August evening, the FRU knows the Fiji 7s bid is struggling for a lack of public support and they have to splash (ultimately taxpayers) cash to fix it.

My own gut feeling is that if it's not one million dollars it will end up being very close.

But certainly there's enough evidence out there for the media in Fiji to really do their job and stop attacking one of the few remaining public figures in Fiji who is willing to put his name to critical thoughts about the rugby administration he once worked for, the people he loves and the country he so proudly served.

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