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Sapolu: “We Will Die For Samoa”

sports@samoanews.com
Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu [photo FV]

In his letter that Samoa News Sports features today, the controversial Samoan fly half and center, Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu wrote to the leader of Samoa and chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi that the Manu Samoa players were willing to lay down their lives for the Samoan people.

“We will die for Samoa. Help us, not hinder us. Support us, not squash us. We need the support of a competent, skillful, Management. We need Management to question the turnarounds, the conflict of interest in referees that have been selected and to create a vibrant inspirational environment for the team”.

He called on Tuila’epa to bring change to the top management of  the Samoa Rugby Union and restore hope for the fans and players. He said that if the status quo was to continue at the top level of the SRU, then “we will go no-where (should things remain the same)”.

“The RWC training camp and RWC was a shambles. If something is not done, we might as well not bother playing test rugby because it is all just an absolute waste of time”.

Sapolu stirred things up in the 2011 World Cup when he used the social media to twit his frustrations against the International Rugby Board’s scheduling of Manu Samoa games during the World Cup that was held in New Zealand recently. Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu accused the IRB of favoring the rich teams over the poor ones like Samoa and other second tier teams. 

He was mad that the IRB gave preferential treatment to rich teams like Wales, New Zealand, and South Africa as these countries had seven to eight days to rest their players between each game while Samoa and other 2nd tier teams were given only four to five days to recover before they played again.

He labeled such treatment as slavery and compared it with the Holocaust. He used strong profanity to communicate his message and dared the IRB to suspend him but “give Samoa a fair deal”.

The IRB did not impose any disciplinary action on Eliota’s first outburst, but the Manu Samoa team management offered an apology. When Manu Samoa narrowly lost to South Africa, 5-13 in the last match of pool D, Sapolu lashed out at referee, Nigel Owens from Wales and called him a racist. He blamed the referee for Samoa’s loss that killed any chances of Manu Samoa moving forward to the knockout rounds. He cited some unfavorable decisions that Owens made that he believed were biased. 

His second outrage landed him before the International Rugby Board’s disciplinary tribunal. He was found guilty of his remarks and was ordered to issue a public apology to referee Owens and perform 100 hours of community work in Samoa. Failure to do so would mean that Sapolu would be suspended from IRB sponsored rugby for six months. The controversial Samoan player will appeal his suspension on November 20. He has also been told to refrain from making public criticism against IRB or its officials.

However, over a week ago, Sapolu, was again in the news when he twitted disparaging remarks aimed at IRB officials and made fun of their disciplinary process. On Monday this week, November, 7 he was suspended for three weeks from rugby after he was found to have made “critical or sarcastic comments” in violation of the conditions of his IRB suspended sentence. 

He also made insulting remarks against the owner of the Saracens Rugby Club in England, Owen Farrell, when Sapolu’s team, Gloucester lost, 19-3, to Saracens ending his team’s 22 game winning streak. However, the disciplinary panel dismissed the charges and did not fine him for those remarks.

Eliota was born in Samoa in 1981 but his family moved to New Zealand when he was four years old. He grew up here and attended the Auckland University where he earned his law degree. He is a member of the New Zealand bar association as well as Samoa’s, but is putting his law career on hold as he concentrates on playing professional rugby in Europe.

Eliota, who is 28, plays for the Gloucester Rugby club situated in the South West region of England. His club and supporters voted him the Most Valuable Player of the 2010-11 season. He joined the Manu Samoa in 2005 and played his first test for Samoa against Scotland that year. Eliota started in all of Samoa’s games as a fly half in 2007 and was awarded the MVP of the only match Samoa won in the 2007 World Cup tournament against the USA.

Eliota has set up a restaurant in Apia called the Apa’ula Heights. He also started a Sports Academy “Every One For Samoa” in Apia two years ago and according to him, other centers will be built around Upolu and Savai’i.

“This foundation is geared to benefit children under the age of 12 who want to pursue rugby as a career. It is centered in the village of Lepea but we will expand to rural areas in the coming years.”

He says the objective of the academy is to teach those under 12 and over the art of rugby and to open opportunities for them, as they grow proficient in the game. He also stresses the importance of having good grades in school to further their education in the future.

Eliota’s parents are from Fagaloa, Vaiala and Vailu’utai.

He advises those in his profession to spend their time wisely, save their money and look for alternative careers after rugby. “I want them to be successful Samoans — to grow up and become doctors, lawyers, accountants and other top careers as something to fall back to when their rugby days are over.”

Eliota says he wants to spend his time in Samoa when he is done with rugby. 

This is Sapolu’s letter to Prime Minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi who is also the chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union. He backs Manu Samoa captain, Mahonri Schwalger’s report that was detailed on Monday’s Samoa News Sports issue:

My name is Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and I write to you in support of Mahonri Schwalger.

He has shown great courage to speak up for the future of Manu Samoa and Samoa. What he says is true. For years we, Manu Samoa, have suffered in the hands of those we trust, members of our own Management and the Samoa Rugby Union.

Unprofessionalism, incompetency, corruption, theft and secrecy. Tough words to use but it’s the truth unfortunately. If Samoa wants to be the best in the world, something needs to be done NOW because the way things are and have been, Samoa will NEVER be Tier 1!  During the RWC 2011, the same issues that have plagued Manu for years once again reared its ugly head.

1) Again we had issues with money. During RWC training camp players were still trying to chase down reimbursements the Union promised from PNC, not only from PNC this year but previous years! We were unhappy with the level of payment considering the effort we were putting in and significance of the RWC. We sort [sic] answers but Manager would put it off to CEO, he puts it off to Deputy Chairman of the Board who puts it back on to Manager. We threatened to not train until someone at least met us! The Deputy Chairman did, with great aggression and blamed everything on poor communication between Manager and the Board. Subsequently, the Manager agreed and apologized for not following up with anything and still leaving the boys out of pocket. The boys asked for financial statements as to where the people’s money was going. It was also proposed by one of the players that a player be allowed to sit in on Board meetings to avoid this problem again, a problem again created by poor communication between Management and the Board.

Furthermore, an article in a paper surfaced in Samoa about the discrepancies between the costs of living at Pacifika Inn and Le Alaimoana. We spent similar time at both yet Le Alaimoana charged over $200,000 tala more! Why couldn’t we receive the small pay increase without a war then?

During the RWC again the Board tried to pull another one over us by paying $1000 a week, not a test match. We played two games in the first week and they told us that because it was all in one week, we were to receive only $1000, despite playing two test matches. Again we had to ask and demand to be paid per test match which is only fair.

The IRB provided occasional lunch and dinner money. Many of the boys did not receive this money. When providing allowances, Manager would sometimes ‘forget’ to give the players this extra money. Only when told about it did the players return to remind the Manager of the money.

There are also allowances for technical, physio and rugby equipment that apparently is missing. I would suggest an investigation into this also.

To this day we have yet to receive these financial statements the Deputy promised us. Transparency apparently. We have absolutely no idea where the millions of dollars the people of Samoa raised for us went to. It definitely did not go to the team. We have a right to know. Samoa has a right to know.

2) Scheduling was extremely poor. This was extremely frustrating. We couldn’t understand how our Manager could not at the very least plan. We were constantly ambushed with appearances we did not need to do that would significantly compromise our training. We had to cancel training to make appearances the Manager had overlooked and would constantly apologize for.

This was unacceptable! Training is the most important thing in team sport and we were canceling them because our Manager kept going back on his word, not providing a detailed plan or changing the little plans he had made! Then there were the plans the Manager made for us that we could not attend. We heard from so many people that we were meant to be here and there, our Manager said we were going to this and that. What resulted is that members of the Management would attend which made us players look like stuck up Muppets for not attending but we did not know anything about it!

It just seemed far too much for him to cope with. He couldn’t handle the job, particularly when it came to his ’91 reunion. He was rarely at our team meetings. I remember asking after our team meeting and lotu, ‘where’s Tuala?’ The answer was, ‘the 91 team have another dinner’. I’m sorry but that is just not good enough. That is kicking us in the face. That is kicking the people of Samoa in the face. We were there to win the world cup, not to relive a past one. We needed our Manager to be on his game, clinical, precise and detailed, like the way we wanted to play. We needed him to put us first. He was far from it. He was completely out of his depth and it did not even seem he wanted to be there anyway which is probably why he never was. I felt sorry for the Assistant Manager Ryan because he did Tuala’s work. I understand he may have struggled with some of it or had an unorthodox way of doing it but he tried. There was also the incident with regards to returning to Samoa which Mahonri is completely telling the truth. We were told nothing! The Manager was not there.

3) We always had small problems everywhere. We had issues with tickets. Many of the boys were given the cheapest seats whilst the expensive comps somehow went missing. We had to try and sort out ticket problems ourselves as late as game day! We were short on training gear yet members of the management were constantly asking us to sign their many pieces of Manu Samoa merchandise. There were times we would show up to training without Rugby balls or water bottles! Everyone pointed the finger. There were times Management and Board members would come to work out at the gym with us but would use the only available vans first and make the players wait for them to be returned. They laid out rules they couldn’t even follow themselves. There were sponsors coming into the hotel threatening players to wear their boots and Board members siding with the sponsor, not the player. There was the drinking by members of the management and Board. There were so many distractions. It all seemed like a bad joke. A joke we’ve come all too familiar with.

 

This really must change. We will go no-where should things remain the same. The RWC training camp and RWC was a shambles. If something is not done, we might as well not bother playing test rugby because it is all just an absolute waste of time. Players first. We will die for Samoa. Help us, not hinder us. Support us, not squash us. We need the support of a competent, skillful, Management. We need Management to question the turnarounds, the conflict of interest in referees that have been selected and to create a vibrant inspirational environment for the team.

Our people deserve that. Our Samoan people sacrificed themselves for us to be here and compete with the best in the world because they believed in all of us, players and Management. We have to work together! The RWC unfortunately was Samoa vs Samoa vs IRB vs Opposition.

I have read Peter Fatialofa’s “lose with dignity” article and am disappointed. This is the professional era, not the amateur days. You want to roll with the big boys of the professional era, you have to be professional! You have to be skilled! You have to committed! The game is far different than it was 20 years ago! Far faster, skillful and business orientated on and off the field. If we keep with this selfish self-serving style of Management, Manu Samoa will continue to self-destruct.

We need change, and I guarantee, if we create a unique system specific to Samoa, with people who will conduct business and rugby affairs with honesty and business and technical skill, we will be the best rugby-playing nation in the world.

Change must come first.

God Bless Samoa

Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu



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