The Samoan Protest – It Gets Uglier

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Samoa lock Dan Leo admits he has been threatened over protest as team demands accountability and transparency from SRU

Dan Leo, the Samoa lock, claims to have been personally threatened by senior members of his country’s government for leading the players’ protest against the Samoa Rugby Union.

A threat to boycott Saturday’s match against England at Twickenham was averted only after the intervention of the International Rugby Board and International Players’ Association. However, the SRU failed to attend two sets of talks aimed at resolving the dispute, which centres on transparency and accountability within the union.

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What further complicates the situation is that Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the SRU chairman who last week called the players “little brats”, is also the Samoan prime minister. So by taking a stand against the SRU, the players were also taking on the government and now Leo, who plays for London Irish, has revealed that he is worried for the safety of his family in Samoa.

“I have had threats personally since we went down this road,” Leo said. “If it’s happened to me it has probably happened to others. We are talking about from board members and everyone knows that our board members are our senior politicians.

“It’s in the back of our minds all the time. This is exactly our point that the bigger issue is that there needs to be a separation of politics from sport. You can’t have a situation where players are questioning accountability and transparency and then getting their families threatened. That’s not sport in my opinion.”

As Leo repeatedly makes clear, the players are not fighting for more personal money. They are paid approximately £400 a week for the European tour (England’s players, by contrast, receive an £18,000 match fee). Many will be left out of pocket just for representing their country, with some clubs withholding their wages while they are on international duty.

Yet, after declining an invitation to talk with the players along with the IRB and IPA in France last Saturday, the SRU also did not attend a meeting that was scheduled on Thursday at the Lensbury Club, claiming improbably that they had got the dates confused.

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“By today we were supposed to have got some resolution around moving forward, which would have been based on guaranteeing players’ safety, there will be no blacklisting of players after this tour and a number of things such as transparency and effective governance,” Leo said. “We got notified 24-48 hours ago that the meeting was not to take place and that the Samoan Rugby Union had mixed up the dates.”

Read more on the Samoan Observer.

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