It’s been an exhilarating past three weeks for lovers of the great game of Rugby. The 2011 World Cup has been a rip roaring success so far for New Zealand, and as a Kiwi, I won’t deny shedding a few tears while watching the opening ceremony on my LG+ smartphone in Seoul. (This In stark contrast to the rapturous way in which I witnessed the announcement that New Zealand had won the right to host back in 2004 after we were gipped by the Aussies in 2003.) But there is something distinctly different about this world cup than any that have come before. And that has been the fact that Pacific Island nations have finally been able to show what real passion for sport means.
The realm of travel outside of Polynesia and the South Pacific is a foreign one for most. We can’t afford holidays to Europe or to Asia to watch Rugby. Most of our people are just trying to make ends meet. Grow food to feed their families or in the case of Islanders in New Zealand, work menial jobs to put younger generations through school and provide the basics for their children. So the Rugby World Cup being held in New Zealand has given Pacific People the chance to finally be able to support their teams in person. And we support like nobody else does. If you consider that the entire population of Tongatapu is less than the capacity of Eden Park you get a better idea of the monumental support the Polynesian people have given to their teams. Sure the French filled their stadium for their World cup, but did more people turn up to watch their team then the entire population of Paris? I guess not.
The welcome that the Samoan, Tongan and FIjian teams received in Auckland has been the most endearing images for me at this world cup. The dancing in the streets, the flash mobs, the sold out Eden Park matches (minus the All Blacks) the flags flying high through all of Auckland’s heavily Pacific filled suburbs have made this a truly international event. The World cup’s that have been held in different countries previous to this one have paled in comparison to levels of support that have been evident at this one, even before a single play off has seen a kick off. And behind this all has been the indomitable spirit of the Pacific People of New Zealand. With all due respect to the tourists who are visiting New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup, without the Pacific peoples presence in New Zealand, it would be a decidedly drab affair. We give New Zealand colour, flavour and most of all passion.
Tonight saw the exit of the first Pacific Island team from the World Cup, a team that many thought had the best chance of all the Pacific Island teams to go through. The peoples team, my team. The brave Manu Samoa. It is true that many think that both Fiji and Tonga will probably exit this weekend too, and once again the Pacific Island teams are being heralded as the minnows that were “unlucky”. But there is nothing unlucky about their situations. In fact it has become glaringly obvious that there is a double standard in the world of rugby that reflects the burgeoning gap between the haves and the have not’s of this world. And I argue that this continued systematic mistreatment of the Pacific Island nations reflect not only a double standard in sport, but also an inherent view by the Political big wigs of the region that Pacific Island Nations are a resource to be exploited and discarded at will, dependent on the bigger nations needs. It’s the new form of colonialism, more dangerous than the original, because at least back then the apparent indifference to indigenous communities was never denied and even openly encouraged. This time around, they are getting us by pretending to want us then hiding when we need them. Case in point, the ridiculous fine given to a Samoan player for using a branded mouthguard! While England managed to get away for blatantly breaking the rules. The IRB rigorously defending it, treating Samoa like a naughty kid in the school yard and it the overbearing principal who knows best, while England obviously must of had their Dad on the school board, oh wait they do.
The treatment Samoa has received from the International Rugby Board (IRB) has been horrendous to say the very least. The Samoan team were given an ultimatum, make the quarter finals or have your already pitiful level of funding cut. Go ahead IRB, even with the token amount of money you gave the Samoan Rugby Union the Manu Samoa had to FUNDRAISE to even get to the World Cup. The Samoan people, one of the poorer countries in the world (in hard currency) ran a telethon so that it could finance its campaign. They ran fundraising dinners, raffles, children with absolutely nothing giving up what little money they had so that their team could make it to the world cup. (I wonder whether the South Africans who were so desperate to win tonight knew this before they started the hollywood antics that has severely damaged my respect for them).
In addition to this, the ridiculous scheduling that Samoa had to endure set up the most absurd situation where Samoa had to play its most important game of the group stages with just 3 full days of rest while Wales their opposition got a full week. Samoa lost an extremely tight game, and many in the Rugby media blamed Samoa’s loss on underperformance, a lack of creative flair when needed. The criticisms were heavy. After tonight’s loss a New Zealand reporter said “Samoa left to ponder what if,” apparently we didn’t take our chances. On the sporting field things sometimes go your way, and well sometimes they don’t; the bounce of the ball may go against you. But that’s sport. But one of the ideals of sport has always been allowing your fellow citizens of the world free and open competition. But in the rugby world it’s anything but. For Pacific Island nations, we continue to be kicked down by other nations so that we don’t get a chance to rise.
Given no resources, denied any top level matches, denied entry into a top level regular competition like the tri-nations, and worst of all disallowed the use of our players for any semblance of build up, is it any wonder our boys were still trying to get used to playing together this late into the world cup? Teams like the All Blacks have had months to prepare, top level coaching, top notch facilities to train in, you’d forgive me for allowing 6 dropped balls due to misunderstanding from an unfairly underprepared Samoan team then a single bad pass from an overly groomed All Black squad with all the money to burn.
The colonial oppressors of our past, still want to oppress us. Why do you think every politics student at the University of Auckland is taught in their first year that realism is the dominant theory in international relations? Because the survival of states and their dominance over other nations is the palagi way of thinking. It’s this doctrine of domination over smaller people that validates them. Bigger nations will do anything so that they can maintain their dominance over smaller nations. Although the threat is not to national security in the case of International Relations theorists, but the concept is well and truly being applied to Pacific Nations by New Zealand. This applies in cultural and believe it or not sporting hegemony too. I have never been one to play to conspiracy theories, but everywhere I look, It’s becoming abundantly clear that where our people sit, is where those who have always been at the top of the pecking order want us to stay.
Look at the rules around player eligibility. You play a single minute for New Zealand at any level and you are automatically ineligible to play for a country like Samoa for the duration of another world cup cycle! even if you’re ethnically Samoan or ethnically Tongan, and especially if you were dropped by the All Blacks or Wallabies. Yet, the European nations are more than happy to buy players, offering huge amounts of money to have Pacific players play for them. Some would argue that that’s their choice. But is it even a choice? Unlike the stars of the Super 15 or players who grow up in New Zealand, stars like the Tuilagi brothers play not for greed, but for their families. There are countless examples of Pacific players who have to do this in Europe so they can support their families in the Islands. Poverty and sport have never mixed.
And throughout all of this where have the NZRFU been? oh just threatening to boycott the next Rugby World Cup if they don’t get the rules around advertising relaxed so they can make more money! They are against the fact that the revenue made from the world cup gets reinvested into all rugby unions around the world. To the very nations that have produced some of New Zealand’s greatest All Blacks. Jonah Lomu (Tongan) Bryan Williams (Samoan) Tana Umaga (Samoan) Inga the Winger (Samoan) Joeli Vidiri (Fijian) Joe Rokocoko (Fijian) Kevin mealamu (Samoan) Sonny Bill Williams (Samoan) just to name a few from off the top of my head. Lets not forget to mention the fact that over 40% of revenue from the last Rugby World Cup was reinvested in TIER 1 Nations like you guessed it, New Zealand! What about Tax payer funds? The NZRFU one of the richest Rugby Unions in the World receives the Lions share of funding from the New Zealand Government. Umm wait that’s my tax money, and wait, I’m Samoan!
The picture becomes quite clear. New Zealand and the bigger Rugby nations benefit from Pacific talent, but not from a stronger Pacific Rugby Nation. The rise of Pacific Island teams would threaten the stranglehold the big three have over test Rugby and probably unhook the already tenuous hold the “pretenders” I like to call them, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland have over the game. But the one thing that these countries have is the money. We don’t have the money. It’s as simple as that.
And to move away from sport for a minute, do Pacific people need to really ask the question as to what place they have in New Zealand society? Auckland has been declared by those of Pacific origin as the biggest Polynesian city in the world, yet the house that controls Auckland and the policies over it is based in Wellington, and although we boast nearly 40% of Auckland’s population, the percentage of the house of representatives that we hold doesn’t go past single digits. None of the policies that the current New Zealand administration favour the development of Pasefika people, and to be honest, nothing that Labour did, or anyone else is planning to campaign on in the upcoming election will make a difference to Pacific Peoples well being. They are all about supporting the dominant group in New Zealand society. Not so special anymore.
So for at least one Samoan this World Cup has had a massive and lasting impact. I have always been blessed with a huge respect and desire for social responsibility. But one thing I want more than anything is for justice. I demand justice for everyone in society. Not just for Pacific people, but for all those who have been treated unfairly in any arena. People may ask why I’m so worked up about a sport. A sport that I follow but don’t love stupendously like most of our population. But it’s the fact that it means so much to my people that has me motivated. The fact that Rugby is just a metaphor for the real injustices that we the minnows of the post colonial era have to deal with in an increasingly global world. It is a human right to represent your country. It is a human right to be treated fairly and equally. And it’s time we took back what is rightfully ours. Samoa mo Samoa.
NB * I have decided to dedicate my entire MA and research I am about to undertake to the advancement of the Samoan and Pacific peoples. Samoa and my family is my motivation.