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Crown for the king

Dr Joseph Veramu
Monday, February 05, 2018

TWO things have come out clearly from the Fiji Rugby Union's bid to host a tournament of the World Rugby Sevens Series in 2019-2020.

First, the public spat with Ben Ryan may not necessarily be a bad thing given the international publicity the bid has generated.

Second, there appears to be a growing external perception that Fiji needs to be seriously considered in its bid.

The South China Morning Post, for example, quotes referee Rasta Rasivhenge as acknowledging that, "it would be the greatest thing in the world" for a world sevens tournament to be held in Fiji.

The same article also notes: "While all the challenges must certainly be given their due consideration, overall one can't help but feel that the World Series simply must come here at some stage, preferably sooner rather than later.

"Fiji is the heartbeat of world sevens and it's time to take the game at the highest level back to the people that love it most."

Rugby, like religion, is a highly charged topic with everyone holding very strong emotional views.

I say this with dread because I now must bring up for discussion the issue of FRU's bid and Ryan's refusal to support it.

I use the word "dread" because in the fast moving landscape of national rugby, public opinion is so fluid that I might wake up in the morning to find myself (on social media) transformed into Darth Vader or (if teenagers are involved) Lord Voldermort!

The FRU had alerted Ben Ryan in August 2017 seeking his support for the world sevens bid. Ryan had declined.

The FRU had nevertheless decided to go ahead. Ryan has written on his Facebook page that he did not back Fiji's bid because the costs were high and it would not be possible to make a profit.

He said overseas consultants had requested $1 million to prepare the bid. He also questioned why FRU was wasting money with media ads.

The FRU defended itself saying the figures quoted as the cost of the bid were greatly exaggerated and were not factual.

The FRU also clarified that all TV and radio advertisements were being provided free to support the national bid.

Some media outlets have clarified that they are running the FRU bid ads as a free public service.

Sports tourism is a huge money earner for Fiji. There are big investments in sports facilities throughout the nation and in hosting various international events.

As the Americans say, to make money you have to spend money. While the investment may not yield immediate returns, they will eventually do so.

Part of this strategy involves the Fiji International Golf Event, the hosting of a Super Rugby match and the World Rugby sevens bid 2019-2020.

There is also the Pan-Pacific Swimming Championship, 2019 IWF World Junior Weightlifting Championships and the 2021 INF World Under-20 Netball Cup happening in Fiji.

Fiji will also host the 21st InterHash Super Meet in Nadi this year. This will involve 4000 overseas participants.

It appears that prior to the World Rugby bid, there had been some friction between FRU and Ryan which probably could have been ironed out with some good old fashioned talanoa.

The friction started after the Rio Olympics win when Ryan had been asked to continue as Fiji's 7s coach. He had declined preferring to take up new challenges.

The FRU thinking was that Ryan had "moved on" meaning that was the end of him as far as Fiji rugby was concerned and FRU would work things out with a new coach.

Ryan, however, had a different perspective feeling that he owed the Fijian rugby loving public a duty to continue to push for the development of the sport locally and internationally.

Ryan was a kind of HSBC ambassador for the sport starting in 2016. In this capacity it appeared that Ryan felt he could continue to support Fiji rugby development.

Within this notion, he continued to be critical of challenges like the need to have contracts and better pay for sevens players even suggesting that they form a franchise.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in early 2017 that Ryan was passionate about a Super Rugby team based in Fiji.

In November 2016, he suggested a $A33 million ($F53.3m) proposal for a franchise to play in a 20,000-seat stadium on Denarau.

FRU had pointed out that they had not been involved in these discussions.

Reuters reported in February 2017 that SANZAR chief executive officer Andy Marinos commented (SANZAR is the body which operates Super Rugby) that "It seems strange that there is a campaign being led by Ben Ryan, mainly in the press, that could impact directly on Super Rugby and yet SANZAR is completely in the dark about the proposal. SANZAR would welcome a conversation and is very open to talking with Ben or any of his associates on his proposed plan should he choose to engage with us".

Ryan appears sincere about making rugby a lucrative income earner not just for Fijians but Pacific Islanders.

The best way forward for Ben Ryan is to constructively engage with FRU at an interpersonal level rather than on social media and possibly work in partnership with them.

Reuters reports that SANZAR might be amenable to discussions for an expansion to the tournament at the end of the current TV deal in 2020.

FRU would need to be involved in any of these discussions and take the lead role. It will need all the support it can get. A better approach would be to engage directly with FRU rather than on social media.

* Joseph Veramu is a policy consultant and can be contacted on Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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