November 9, 2017 / 1:06 PM / a year ago

World Rugby denies Samoa players are uninsured

LONDON (Reuters) - World Rugby has denied claims from the prime minister of Samoa that the country’s rugby union team cannot afford to insure its players.

Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who is also chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union (SRU), said the organisation was “bankrupt” in an interview with local media on Tuesday.

He added that there was no money to pay for player insurance and the head coach’s salary ahead of matches against Scotland at Murrayfield on Nov. 11 and England at Twickenham two weeks later.

A World Rugby statement published on Thursday, however, said the sport’s governing body had increased their indirect investment in the SRU’s high-performance programme to 1.5 million pounds in 2017.

“Specifically for the November window, this support package includes insurance cover under Regulation 9, underwriting assembly costs for a pre-tour camp, flights to and from Europe and participation in the Americas Pacific Challenge, a preparation and development tournament,” the statement said.  

Malielegaoi had told the Samoa Observer that the SRU were insolvent.

“It means the Union cannot continue to pay off our debts with the banks. We also need money to pay the players so they can continue to play,” he said.

The manager of the Samoan team, Aloi Alesana, however, said wages were still being paid on time.

“We are getting paid and we have everything we need. No one is worried,” he told Reuters on Thursday.

“We have very nice food and great facilities here (in the team hotel). Actually the food is a bit too nice. We’re looking forward to the game on Saturday. No one is worried about this.”

England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) will generate around 10 million pounds when England host Samoa on Nov. 25 and, under World Rugby rules, they are under no obligation to share gate receipts with visiting test sides.

The RFU will compensate Samoa to the tune of 75,000 pounds. All on-the-ground costs for visiting teams are also covered.

Samoa host the biggest rugby nations infrequently, and when they do, cheap tickets and small stadiums ensure gate receipts are low.

The match fees for players also differ significantly. While England’s players will earn 22,000 pounds each from the RFU, their Samoan counterparts will earn just 650 pounds from their federation, according to media reports.

The imbalance has prompted England prop Mako Vunipola to suggest each home player donates at least 1,000 pounds of their match fee to their Samoan opponents.

There is no professional club rugby in Samoa, Fiji or Tonga, and hundreds of their players ply their trade for clubs in Europe, Australia and New Zealand as a result, with many eventually opting to switch nationality.

Fiji are ranked ninth in the world, Tonga 13th and Samoa 16th.

Additional reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Toby Davis

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