‘I am sorry’ – Fiji Rugby admits it shortchanged women players

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Fijiana 15s team
The Fijiana 15s team . . . not entirely clear why the payments were withheld. Image: Oceania Rugby

By Iliesa Tora, RNZ Pacific senior sports journalist

Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) has confirmed it underpaid its women rugby players and still owes them their dues from last year’s World Cup.

In an extraordinary admission of fault, FRU Trustees Board interim chairman Peter Mazey apologised to Fijiana players and acknowledged the women for their “strength and honesty” in highlighting player welfare concerns.

“I can only apologise to the women who represented Fiji so proudly in our Fijiana 15s and Fijiana Drua teams,” Mazey said via a statement late on Friday night.

He added that the Trustees would be called to meet “early next week to enable us to review everything and correct the situation”.

Mazey said he had “personally contacted” Fijiana captain Sereima Leweniqila “to address the issues” she had raised via social media this week.

Leweniqila’s claims about players not receiving their allowances and payments promised to them was also backed up by other senior players, including Fijiana Drua captain Bitila Tawake and Asinate Severi, daughter Fiji Sevens great and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Waisale Serevi.

The FRU refuted the claims on Thursday, saying it had paid what was owed to the players.

However, that turned out to be false after Mazey’s confirmation the women’s team players were in fact owed money.

‘Further investigations’
“Today [Friday], further investigations and evidence received have shown that the women were promised F$300 a day, as claimed, despite the Rugby Allowance policy,” Mazey said.

He said after his discussions with Leweniqilia, he also found out the players who represented Fiji at the 2022 World Cup were also underpaid and did not receive any response from FRU to their queries.

“I must thank all of those great women’s rugby players who had the strength and honesty to come out and bring their rights to the trustees’ attention.

“I am only sorry they were forced to use social media to achieve what is their right due to promises made.”

While it is not entirely clear why the payments were held, Mazey said the Trustees want to meet to the women ruggers “as soon as possible to address all other issues they have raised and to obtain their help in guiding us in the restructuring and the organisation of Fiji Rugby as a professional body moving forward.”

Fijiana 15 team at training in Suva.
Fijiana 15s captain Sereima Leweniqila (second from right) says “enough is enough” and Fiji Rugby should pay what it owes to the women’s team players. Image: Fiji Rugby Union

‘Enough is enough’ – Fijiana captain
On Friday, Leweniqila had confirmed to RNZ Pacific she called for FRU Trustees Board to investigate why the women had not been paid what was promised to them during the recent international commitments.

Leweniqila said they were still querying why things were changed when they were told during the one-off Test against the Australian Wallaroos and the Oceania Women’s Rugby Championship that the allowance of $300 per day had been approved.

She said team manager Vela Naucukidi had told them before they left for the two events that each player would receive $300 per day on the tour and $100 while in camp in Fiji.

“I think enough is enough, so we had to speak,” she said.

On Wednesday, the FRU released a statement claiming all dues were paid to the women.

FRU administrator Simione Valenitabua said the only money owed to the players was the $8000 per player promised by the Fijian government.

Valenitabua had said the Fijiana players were paid $100 per day while on tour, according to the pay structure that was in place.

“I do not know who made the blunder to be honest. That’s what the girls are talking about,” Leweniqila said

“Before we left for Australia, our manager had told us that. They did pay. But not the $300.”

RNZ Pacific has reached out to Naucukidi for comment.

Meanwhile, RNZ Pacific asked Valenitabua if reviewing the players’ pay structure was on FRU’s agenda to address future problems.

He said the FRU Trustees were working on reviewing the pay structure.

“[It is] exactly what we are doing but thanks for raising it,” he said.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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