Pacific nations can refuse to release rugby players to NZ clubs, says Tonga great - Solomon Star News

Pacific nations can refuse to release rugby players to NZ clubs, says Tonga great

01 February 2016

WELLINGTON, (STUFF NZ) - Rugby clubs must show they have real jobs, real visas and real support plans for young players, says former Super Rugby star.

A former Tongan rugby captain has called on Pacific Island rugby unions to refuse to release their players to New Zealand clubs until the clubs can prove they have a full support plan in place.

Inoke Afeaki was commenting on revelations that some clubs and agents are bending immigration rules to find jobs for Pacific players to keep them in the country longer.

Pacific players are increasingly being used to plug a drain of New Zealand players to other sports or overseas, but most club-level Pacific players have to return home after a couple of seasons as their visas are short-term, specific purpose ones. 

His comments come as it is revealed that some rugby clubs are allegedly creating bespoke jobs for Pacific Island rugby players, in order to get them work visas.

Afeaki, who grew up in the Hutt Valley, played for the Hurricanes as well as clubs in Japan and Wales, and captained Tonga at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

He said New Zealand clubs needed to show a plan for each player.

"There's always loopholes, people will find ways of getting a need-supply situation filled. The clubs need to show ... that this kid is given a fair deal and it's legitimate – that they're there not sending a kid over there with no skill set for the job they're asked to do.

"If there's a bit of fudging over the job type it will be exposed early on. You want them to improve themselves with a job, so they can learn how to cope in a First World country."

Afeaki, now technical director for the Singapore Rugby Union, said unions had the right to refuse to release players who wanted to register with another country.

"They should demand that anyone who is dealing with their rugby players meet with the union, with the player, and show them their plan for that player in New Zealand. 

"You want to know how much money the kid is getting and whether that's enough for him to live on, or is he going to be on breadcrumbs?

Afeaki said the problem was the unions were reluctant to intervene in case they jeopardised the player's deal.

"They need to change that mindset. They have to have something structured and planned to make sure they catch this player before they leave the country, and get all the details. Make them sit down, treat every person as a budding young enterprise."

Afeaki said it was "scary" that young players were leaving the Islands with no financial literacy skills.
"Rugby is a vehicle to improve one's life ... but they need a supportive environment or they'll quickly get into trouble."