NFP President blasts FRU and Vodafone-led consortium

December 14, 2016

MEDIA RELEASE

FRU IS NOT A CONSORTIUM OF CORPORATE AND FAMILY INTERESTS: – OUR GOLDEN OLYMPIC TEAM DESERVE JUSTICE, DIGNITY AND RESPECT – NOT PITTANCE: NFP

The President of the National Federation Party, Roko Tupou Draunidalo has today called on the Fiji Rugby Union and Vodafone-led consortium to fully explain the details of their sponsorship arrangements and clarify why the $40m sponsorship provides insufficient resources to allow for members of the national 7s team to receive anything more than basic allowances.

‘The game of rugby holds a special place in the hearts of all Fijians,’ said Draunidalo. ‘Time and time again when politics and our political leaders have failed this country, it is rugby that has bound us together as a community, lifted us up as a nation and shown us the way forward.’ ‘But we appear to be the only country in the world who wins Olympic gold but then fails to secure any commercial benefit for the players. Is this because of the Vodafone sponsorship deal? The FRU’s leadership is so shambolic we appear to have won gold but actually lost sponsors. Certainly what we now know is that our national 7s players are expected to play like professionals but live like paupers on the World 7s Series.’

“This government might claim there should be a separation between politics and sport. But they chose to end that separation when the prime minister accepted the presidency of the Fiji Rugby Union in 2014, and then handpicked a succession of his closest allies as chairmen of the FRU through their appointment as the PM’s nominee to the board”, said Draunidalo.

‘What is shocking is that despite all that they have achieved, it is clear the 7s players have no voice. Like so many in this country, they find themselves unable to reach out to the media to explain their situation and to press their case.’

‘That is why Fiji should be grateful that Ben Ryan has spoken up. He has shone a light where the FRU would rather was kept dark. Thanks to his commitment to do what is right, Ryan has made us aware of this deplorable state of affairs. ‘Sadly it is typical that Ryan’s legitimate concerns have been treated with such contempt by the FRU leadership. Rugby House is showing an intolerance to criticism and an inability to admit mistakes that mirrors this government, which is addicted to secrecy and only too happy to arbitrarily arrest its opponents, deport them or place them on immigration blacklists.’

In February 2014, the Fiji Rugby Union signed a five-year sponsorship agreement with a consortium of local companies led by Vodafone Fiji Ltd. Other companies included are Telecom Fiji Ltd, Fiji Airways, HFC Bank and CJ Patel.

The then-chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union, Filimone Waqabaca, announced that the Vodafone consortium was pledging sponsorship worth $8m a year or $40m over the five years of the agreement. We were promised this would be ‘a game changer’ for Fiji rugby.

Waqabaca, who was the Bainimarama government’s permanent secretary of Finance at the time, was appointed directly to the board by the prime minister. He is now Fiji’s High Commissioner in New Zealand.

‘The FRU’s 2015 financial report shows clearly that instead of the promised $8m income, the total income from the Vodafone consortium is just over $3m a year, covering cash and value in kind such as airfares. There was even less recorded cash and value in kind income report in the 2014 audited report.’

The FRU’s own financial reports show that in spite of being promised $8m a year, Vodafone and its consortium partners have paid $5m less for each of the first two years of the sponsorship agreement – a shortfall of $10m in total against a promise of $16m.

‘Now is the time for the Government to reveal what was in the June 12, 2015 letter sent by the then FRU Chief Executive Radrodro Tabualevu to the Vodafone CEO. We are reliably informed the document was a 30-day termination letter, alleging a failure by Vodafone to account for more than $5 million worth of sponsorship support in the first year of their sponsorship agreement.’

We know that the June 12, 2015 letter was also copied to the prime minister’s brother-in- law Francis Kean, as FRU chairman, the Prime Minister himself as president of the Fiji Rugby Union, and Ajith Kodagoda, as the chairman of the parent company of Vodafone Fiji Ltd.

‘Is it not the case that had the FRU followed through and terminated the relationship with Vodafone in 2015, when Fiji had already won their first of two World 7s  series titles, then the FRU would now be many millions of dollars better off?’

‘With the FRU freed from the Vodafone deal, Rugby House would have been able to build a structure of sponsorship support that reflected the success Ben Ryan was already bringing to the country, and which reached its peak with the Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro.’

Sadly this did not happen. What happened next is familiar to many who have watched this government in action. At the same time that this threat of termination was being discussed between the FRU and Vodafone, the mobile phone company announced that it was paying for the Prime Minister and his wife to attend the 2015 Rugby World Cup opening match.

Kodagoda was quoted as telling the local media that Vodafone was happy to foot all of the estimated $60,000 costs. ‘As the head of Fiji Rugby Union in the country and as Prime Minister, Mr Bainimarama has a done a lot for the development and good administration of the sport in the country and deserves to be at the Rugby World Cup.’

Vodafone and the FRU then patched up their differences but on surprising terms given the amounts at stake. Vodafone were being asked by the FRU to explain $5m in missing expenditure from 2014, but eventually settled by paying only an additional $100,000 in cash to the FRU in September 2015. This extra payment represented only two percent of what the FRU were chasing.

Tabualevu resigned from the FRU in November 2015. No explanation has ever been offered of this extraordinary compromise nor the effect that continuing with Vodafone on the same terms has had on the financial fighting power of the FRU to do its best by its players. It is with great regret that we note the FRU continues to ban media from its Annual and Special General Meetings.

As the NFP, we say that the Prime Minister has done too much for himself, for his family members at the FRU and for his allies in Vodafone and its consortium members. All of his advancement has been built on the back of the players – our best and rarest resource – of whom so much is expected and so little provided by Rugby House.

‘The government needs to come clean once and for all about this wretched Vodafone deal. Why is this country’s national sport strapped into commercial arrangements that only seem to profit the Prime Minister and his allies?

We re-iterate Vodafone’s relationship with Fiji rugby is short-changing all of the rest of the game’s stakeholders from the provincial unions and 7s players right through to those in secondary and Kaji rugby and the families who keep this great game alive.’

Authorised by: Roko Tupou Draunidalo, NFP President