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Moiz Munif And Elenoa Baselala
Tuesday, February 06, 2018

SOME Fiji Bati players have broken their silence on the non-payment of the Rugby League World Cup semi-final prizemoney and frustrations during the world event last year.

A statement from senior players released to this newspaper stated that as much as they were expected to be on form for the RLWC, the FNRL also had ample time to prepare for the welfare of the Fiji Bati players.

"We were faced with many issues with team apparel, team jerseys, passports being lost, reapplying for new passports, visa issues and continuous late allowance payments — of which were heavily relied upon to support our families," the statement read.

"The latest and still ongoing issue is the non-payment of RLWC prizemoney in reaching the semi-final stage back in November 2017.

"This statement is about setting a precedence in terms of a call for commitment, good practice and governance, transparency and ultimately, trust from the Fiji National Rugby League."

FNRL chief executive officer, Timoci Naleba defended FNRL saying it had committed more resources for the Vodafone Fiji Bati in the 2017 RLWC compared with the last three world cup preparations.

"In 2017, FNRL spent more than a ($) million for the Bati preparation and also during the world cup.

"This also include increased allowances for players and in addition the players get to share all the prizemoney. Not a single cent came back to FNRL.

"The only aspect which did not change is the continuous absence of local players from active duty during the world cup campaign. Like every other Pacific Island team culture, the RLWC is in itself a reward. Wearing the national Vodafone Fiji Bati jumper is an honour and a privilege."

This honour and privilege was not denied by the players though.

"It is an absolute honour when picked to play for the Fiji Bati, to proudly represent our country of which we are extremely passionate about. We considered this a privilege, yet at the same time, expected a certain level of transparency, including, a cohesive space, that would allow us to do what we do best — that is, to play rugby league.

"A code, that we have great allegiance and respect towards, coupled with a deep connection towards our country of origin — Fiji."

The statement stated that in an international event, the administration and management of any national sporting team should be of the highest quality to ensure best performances from players "proudly wearing their national colours".

"As players — to be worthy and selected for Fiji Bati representation — we have to maintain professional high standards in training and performance."

Naleba, however, defended the FNRL saying there had been a lot of changes in FNRL after the company redirected its strategies towards a more "systematic approach" through the KALAWA Plans beginning on 2016.

"It is important that similar to any change program, the expected results can not be seen over night. What will definitely be seen as a result of these changes is the gradual growing number of local players representing the Vodafone Fiji Bati," Naleba said.

However, the players said the payment of the prizemoney was in their contracts and had waited for more than two months. They also called for a change in the FNRL leadership.

"….we would be prepared to stand down from our participation in any 2018 FNRL- Fiji Bati Test matches or other games in the near future until there is a major overhaul of leadership within the FNRL," the statement said.

"As a playing group - we stand strong for our local brothers and for future generations that will proudly wear the Fiji Bati jersey."

FNRL chairman, Filimoni Vosarogo told this newspaper yesterday that Naleba would be travelling to Australia to resolve the issue.

Naleba said NRL and the World Cup have been authorised to distribute the prizemoney to all players' bank accounts.

"Not a single cent from the world cup prizemoney is with FNRL," he added.

"Therefore, players making demands for a change in executive management of the company is immature, prejudicial and unfair.

"However, as a national team, FNRL always embrace the spirit of giving by all who would want to identify with the FNRL's aspirations and dreams."

FNRL also issued a subtle reprimand to the players.

"FNRL will, as practised in the past award the world cup Fiji Bati jumper to players who are more considerate of others rather than themselves, especially players that will contribute and share world cup proceeds towards local players' development and make local players believe that their efforts in keeping the game alive are also recognised."

Despite the frustrations players faced, the team caused one of the biggest upsets of the RLWC when they defeated world number two New Zealand 4-2 in the quarter-final before they were bundled out in semi final by eventual winners, Australia.

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