Opinion

Dan Leo, Fiji And The World Rugby Saga

He is photogenic, articulate and spices his lively interviews with just the right amount of provocative statements to sell publications. In this very difficult time when sporting events are on hold and media outlets are suffering huge losses, Leo has generated a lot of lucrative air.
10 May 2020 13:23
Dan Leo, Fiji And The World Rugby Saga
Dan Leo, the chief executive of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare.

Dan Leo, the chief executive of the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, is the kind of person journalists dream of.

He is photogenic, articulate and spices his lively interviews with just the right amount of provocative statements to sell publications. In this very difficult time when sporting events are on hold and media outlets are suffering huge losses, Leo has generated a lot of lucrative air.

From the outset, it should be clarified that the Fiji Rugby Union and Fijian rugby players work through Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) which is their official representative. Fiji has no involvement in Dan Leo’s Pacific Rugby Players Welfare. It should also be emphasized that nomination of officers in World Rugby is done by Rugby Unions and not individuals.

Although Dan Leo’s accusations and one-sided views are often misplaced and misguided, I have no doubt that he is sincere and means well. He is big on social media and has a huge following. He also writes readable blog pieces and articles. Ideally it would be good to sit down with him and sort out his gripes in the Pacific way over a bowl of kava.

No stranger to controversy

Dan Leo is no stranger to controversy. In 2014, the Samoan Rugby team under his leadership threatened not to play an international test due, among other concerns, to the low pay they were receiving. The Samoan Government issued a statement saying that, “It was an extremely selfish thing to do… It’s just a total lack of respect.”

Just as he is doing now with threats of removing Rugby Sevens from the Olympics, Stuff.co.nz reported in 2014 that, ”Dan Leo revealed the International Rugby Board told Manu Samoa the All Black test scheduled to take place on the island nation next year would be cancelled, and Samoa kicked out of the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup….”

Media role

One of the realities of post-modern media is that bad news sells well. Even a harmless suggestion to sit down with Leo and talk over his concerns can be misconstrued as an attempt to get him to be infected with the virus or to suppress him! Since bad news sells, media outlets are often unwilling to see the other side of the coin; the rebuttal from Fijians who have their story to tell. This is so unfair for Fijians given that our narrative is being shaped for the global media by Dan Leo.

The UK Media outlets who were very fulsome in their negative coverage should be forgiven for not reaching out to Fiji for our side of the story. Perhaps during the pandemic, they had weak internet broadband making it hard to communicate with this side of the world.

Rugby Sevens Banned From Olympics?

Leo was threatening to write to the International Olympic Committee to ask for Rugby Sevens to be suspended from the Olympics. Leo argued that if it takes some short-term pain, i.e. being blocked from the Olympics then so be it. Mike Friday the US Rugby Sevens Coach was quoted in Rugby Pass as follows,” This is a pretty juvenile, strong-arm tactic to throw out there given all the work that has been done to get sevens into the Olympics.”

Leo’s reason? He is calling for an investigation into Fiji Rugby Union Chairman, Francis Kean and the unions which supported his nomination for the World Rugby Executive Committee seat, as well as stronger vetting processes to avoid a similar situation.

World Rugby has now formally launched an investigation.

I would like to put it out here that we should be moving away from the kind of Eurocentric zero optimum level compliance to one that integrates risk management strategies in sports governance.

The Accusations: It is important that accusations of corruption are backed by evidence rather than innuendo and hearsay given to the global media for self-promotion.

Dan Leo says, “The current chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union is not a fit and proper person to organize a game of touch rugby in a muddy backyard, let alone to serve as chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union.”

The prevalent view in Fiji is that Francis Kean had a conviction 13 years ago. He served time in prison. He was very deeply remorseful of it. He has been rehabilitated. He has become a stronger Christian because of it. At some point we have to bring closure and allow individuals to get on with their lives so they can contribute positively to society.

Kean and the dedicated Board members and Staff of the Fiji Rugby Union have worked tirelessly and proactively to lift Fijian rugby out of the doldrums. No one expected us to win Gold in Rio given the devastation of Cyclone Winston where 43 people died and tens of thousands were left homeless. But the fact that we won is testament to the hard work and dedication of the Chairman, the brilliant coach, the players and the FRU staff.

Dan Leo says, “The chairman’s brother in law (is) the prime minister ..the prime minister’s cousin, the FRU CEO.”

It is not a peculiarity of Fijians and Pacific islanders with relatively small populations to find that they are virtually related to each other. For example, everywhere I have gone in Fiji and overseas where Fijians congregate, I have conversed with people I have never met in my life relating their ties after inquiring about my clan and kinship links. Fiji is basically a very small place and virtually everyone is linked to each other. When people apply for positions and are shortlisted, it is part of Fiji’s Governance processes that those who sit on selection committees declare their Interests and remove themselves from the selection process. Everything is done above board. There is nothing sinister in people being related as they are appointed on merit.

Dan Leo says, “(Pacific) Politicians and their corruption are killing rugby in the islands. If we don’t address this then we never progress.

Leo should provide evidence of his allegations of corruption and not throw it out there for the global press to blow up the fiction to tsunamic proportions. He is encouraged to take it to World Rugby. He has Mr Beaumont’s phone number. Go for it!

Pragmatically, we need politicians to be involved in sports because Pacific states need to invest huge amounts of money into it and put in place policies that support socio-economic development and to allow players to develop their full potential. It is a reality of modern sports in the Pacific that whoever is running the Government of the day needs to be very actively involved.

Dan Leo brings up homophobia.

Homophobia should be condemned in the strongest terms. Looking contextually at South Pacific laws on homosexuality, it can be seen that more needs to be done to protect gay rights.

There are seven South Pacific nations where homosexuality is a crime with jail terms of between five and 14 years. They are the Cook Islands, Kiribati, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu. Vanuatu and Fiji are the most gay-friendly nations that have decriminalised homosexuality.

It is usually the case that one starts off not being gay-friendly and then becomes deeply remorseful when one comes to the realisation of the folly of homophobia through renewed Christian Faith and through a changed mindset. One sheds one’s past behaviour with the affirming mindset of respect for people irrespective of their sexuality. Since World Rugby is undertaking an investigation, it is best that we hold off on further discussions.

Conclusion:

I have no doubt that Dan Leo is sincere and means well. One day he will become Chairman of World Rugby and there might even be a Hollywood movie produced about him especially if he is successful in removing Rugby Sevens from the Olympics (and becomes the saviour who helps to reinstate it).

However, it is very important that allegations of corruption and poor governance is backed by evidence. It becomes tedious if innuendo, hearsay and social media gossip is packaged for self-promotion.

This does more harm to Pacific rugby development when the opportunists involved are our own flesh and blood.

Feedback: rosi.doviverata@fijisun.com.fj

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