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The former chief executive of the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) says he “finds it troubling” that the body’s president is also the prime minister of the country, and hopes next week’s national elections can help to bring about change in the way sport is governed in the country.
Manasa Baravilala, vice-president of Fiji’s opposition National Federation Party said he wants politics kept out of the FRU, which is headed by Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
“We want to keep politics out of the Fiji Rugby Union and encourage it to thrive under independent management and commercial sponsorship,” Baravilala told the South China Morning Post. “I find it troubling that the president of the FRU is the prime minister of Fiji, as per the FRU constitution.
“This was not the case in my time. This, in my view can create potential conflict of interest or poor governance issues.
“The Fiji government is a major funding partner to the FRU and, because of this funding, can subject the FRU to political interference. Eligibility for FRU president should be the rugby sports administrators or presidents of provincial rugby unions who are affiliated to the FRU, who are active sports administrators.
“Would New Zealand, Australia, England allow this? If not, why Fiji?”
Former military leader Bainimarama took over the FRU in May, 2014, having led the country since 2007 after orchestrating his second coup to remove the government, the first being in 2000. His brother in law, Francis Kean, is chairman of the FRU and was in 2007 convicted of manslaughter after an initial charge of murder had been reduced.
Bainimarama, leader of the FijiFirst party, has consistently defended the coups that brought him to power, saying he had helped to overthrow the “elites” who had benefited at the expense of ordinary Fijians. Last month, he attacked Baravilala’s party, saying it was created only to look after the interests of Indo-Fijians.
If the Fiji elections result in a change of government, there is a strong possibility that the FRU leadership may also change.
When asked if the country’s rugby players and other athletes shared his feelings about the government, Baravilala replied: “Yes, except those who are benefiting from the regime.”
One former rugby player who declined to be named for fear of going against the government, said: “No one knows how much money comes into the country from World Rugby, no one knows where the money is spent and how many personal pockets are filled.”
Despite this, Fiji remain the leading lights in world sevens rugby, having won the Olympic gold medal under English coach Ben Ryan at the 2016 Rio Games – a historic achievement that united the country and which the FRU used to justify the way it has ruled the sport in the South Pacific country.
They have also won the past four Hong Kong Sevens titles, which for Fijians mean more than any other sevens series competition barring the World Cup and Olympics.
Baravilala, who as CEO started the process to hire Ryan, said the dual role of prime minister and FRU president was an embarrassment to the world.
“It is pretty embarrassing for us to see only one prime minister in the whole world attending all-expense paid trips to the HSBC Sevens series, Rugby World Cups – 15s & sevens, Commonwealth and Olympic Games and collecting F$3,000 (HK$11,000) a day pocket money,” he said. “He should be at home growing the economy and creating jobs for his people who are earning F$2.68 per hour.
“The November 14, 2018 election is a critical one in Fiji’s young history as it will decide if we are to continue on the path of lack of genuine democracy, suppression of media rights, suppression of freedom of expression and assembly, and continued state sanctioned intimidation and fear,” said Baravilala, who also holds a top post in Fiji’s boxing body, which was once suspended by the Asian governing organisation because of government interference.
“The National Federation Party has a clear manifesto on and recreation because, apart from other things, it builds fitness, fights non-communicable disease, for which Fiji leads the world, and is a strong force for national unity as witnessed when Ben, Oscar and the boys won the Rio gold in 2016. We will establish a National Sports Institute when we form a government.
“I will continue with my role in boxing as we continue to establish development pathways after we were suspended by AIBA when the regime seized control of the sport.”
Baravilala says that rugby is not only part of the Fijian culture but is an important form of revenue for the country thanks to the many players who play professionally overseas and send money home.
“Rugby players and others prop up Fiji’s economy since the regime in 12 years added F$2.5 billion to Fiji’s debt,” he said. “It took us 36 years from Fiji’s independence in 1970 to 2006 and five different governments to accumulate a debt of F$2 billion (US$1 billion). This regime got the job done in 12 years.”
SOURCE: SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST/PACNEWS
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