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Oceans Apart reviewed: a daring exposé of Pacific rugby

This shocking and impactful documentary is a must watch for all rugby fans.

Created by former Samoa player, Dan Leo, who was dropped from the national team for being too outspoken on the issues of corruption within the union, Oceans Apart shows the almost dystopian position of Pacific Island rugby players, stuck between a union chaired by the Prime Minister and a governing body with little intention of intervening.

It seeks to challenge actions and perceptions of all stakeholders within the rugby community.

The documentary sheds light on the lack of funding or support that Tier 2 nations receive and the heartbreaking situations that result from the exportation of players.

Leo begins by discussing the issues of alleged corruption within the Samoan Rugby Union as well as the commodification of Pacific Island players among Tier 1 nations, comprised of rugby union’s most successful nations including England, Australia and New Zealand among others.

He also speaks to notable players and exported talents about their motivations for playing for other nations and their thoughts on the current issues surrounding eligibility.

Currently there is a “one nation for life” policy, which in the case of Pacific Islanders is incredibly limiting.

In an increasingly typical dilemma of modern sportsmen and sportswomen, the move to Tier 1 nations is usually driven by the desire for a better quality of life and/or for financial reasons. In contrast, the prospect of playing for their Pacific Island Nation is driven by pride and heritage.

Another issue discussed in detail was the aspect of gate receipts. Leo proposed that the Tier 1 nations should be willing to share at least a small percentage of the revenue collected at the gates when national teams from the Pacific Islands tour Tier 1 nations.

The fact that 100 per cent of the profit goes to the host nation comes as a shocking revelation and is equivalent to a boxing match where one boxer earns all the money while the other receives absolutely nothing.

In the case of Pacific Island teams, on the rare occasions that Tier 1 nations do tour the Pacific Islands, the revenue is invariably so low they cannot even afford to pay their players let alone carry out much-needed maintenance on their stadiums.

It is almost inconceivable that international rugby players would be expected to play for free and cover their own costs.
Rather than seeking culprits, it is crucial to seek the best way to improve the situation. Dan Leo’s foundation, Pacific Rugby Player Welfare is the first step.

Tier 1 and 2 nations must consider what they can do alongside World Rugby to give everyone a fair and equal opportunity.

There is no doubting the complexity surrounding eligibility, funding, and governance in world rugby. Feathers will have to be ruffled, and previously ignored voices must be heard to provide a positive outcome for everyone involved and for the future of rugby in general.

On a personal level, this documentary challenged my perception of the equity and fairness within rugby. I had not realised that these inequalities were so stark and had assumed that everyone is given a fair opportunity and that any disadvantages are an unforeseen side effect as opposed to a systemic problem.

This documentary shows that more must be done to ensure that rugby not only grows but can provide a viable lifeline for Pacific Island players.

Image: P.Y. Beaudoin via Wikimedia Commons