SII Focus 30th July 2020

World Rugby sidesteps serious allegations in Veilomani Report

World Rugby has reiterated that the April 2020 election of Bill Beaumont as its Chairman was conducted in a ‘fair and appropriate manner’ and has defended its governance structures, after a Report from Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) made serious allegations against it. The Veilomani Report (PDF) below alleged that World Rugby failed to respond to allegations that France promised matches against Fiji as well as coaching camps in exchange for the Fiji Rugby Union’s (FRU) vote for Beaumont and Bernard Laporte, the President of the French rugby federation (FFR) elected as World Rugby Vice Chairman alongside Beaumont.

Veilomani is a Fijian word referring to love for one another, to be at peace with each other, and working together constructively. Yet the allegations the Veilomani Report outline suggest that World Rugby has been operating in a way that doesn’t respect those principles.

The Report also alleges serious malpractice at the FRU. The allegations it details involve a murder conviction, a dubious ‘suicide’, homophobia, discrimination, and allowing convicted rapists to play club rugby.

Francis Kean & the FRU

The Report alleges that World Rugby’s failure to respond to serious allegations surrounding former Council member, Francis Kean, underline that it is not in compliance with International Olympic Committee (IOC) principles on good governance and ethics. Kean withdrew his World Rugby Executive Committee candidature in April, after a Sunday Times article alleged that he was guilty of homophobia and discrimination.

Kean is the brother in law of Frank Bainimarama, who led a 2006 military coup and appointed himself Prime Minister in 2007. This was also the year in which Kean was charged with the murder of John Whippy, but was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter. ‘Kean served only three months of an 18-month sentence for manslaughter and, upon his release, was re-installed as Commander of Fiji’s Navy, receiving full backpay for time spent in prison’, highlights the Veilomani Report.

Bainimarama is President of the FRU, and appointed Kean as Chairman in 2015. Amazingly, the Veilomani Repot found that not only does World Rugby lack a Code of Ethics, Article 65.4 of its Constitution appears to mandate that a convicted criminal will not be ineligible for official positions if they have served their sentences (see right). 

The Report also appears to suggest that Kean may have been partially responsible for the ‘suicide’ of Julie Alexander, a New Zealand citizen who proposed the building of a rugby academy. Kean accused Alexander of fraud in a 24 November 2015 letter to World Rugby and Oceania Rugby officials. Alexander responded by raising the allegations against Kean on 27 November, and on the same day wrote on Facebook: ‘Am off to bed now, see you tomorrow, if I am not murdered in my sleep!’.

On 28 November, she was found dead, which Fiji Police said was the result of an attempted suicide. Sitiveni Qiliho, the Acting Police Commissioner in charge of investigating Alexander’s death, is alleged to have been behind the firebombing of Justice Gordon Ward’s home after he raised concerns that the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) was not operating in accordance with Fiji’s Constitution.

Francis Kean is Fiji’s Commissioner of Corrections…

Bainimarama appointmented of Kean as Commissioner of Corrections in 2016, a prison management role. The Report outlines that there are 13 correctional facilities (or prisons) in Fiji, and many of them operate teams in local club competitions either known as ‘Prison’ or ‘Warden’. John McKee, Fiji’s Head Coach from 2014 to 2020, told Radio Australia that Kean had removed young players from World Rugby development programmes because they had refused to enrol as a Prison Officer and play for ‘Warden’ teams run by Kean.

The Veilomani Report also alleges that due to Kean’s role as Commissioner of Corrections in 2016, he is implicated in allowing convicted rapists to play rugby union for such teams. ‘In September 2019, [Amenoni] Nasilasila was convicted of rape and given an eight-year jail sentence with a six-year no-parole period’, reads the Report. ‘Only five days after starting his jail term, Nasilasila was released to play for Kean’s Wardens team in a session with a national team preparing for the Oceania Rugby 7s’.

Kean also apparently recruited a former Fiji Sevens player, Nacanieli Labalaba, who had been convicted of gang rape. ‘Labalaba was convicted in October 2019 for his part in a six-man gang rape of a young woman while she slept’, reads the Report. ‘He was jailed for 11 years and nine-and-a-half months. Within three months of starting his sentence, Labalaba was pictured playing for Kean’s Wardens 7s team in a local competition.’

The Report also alleges that World Rugby tolerates the operation of rugby academies in Fiji by a number of French clubs, failing to enforce its own regulations. Section 1 of World Rugby’s Regulation 4 details ‘Guidelines for Unions on the Development of Young Players’. Part C of this mandates that ‘Rugby Bodies or Clubs may only operate or arrange to have operated Licensed Training Centres and/or conduct any other development, training or playing programme within the geographical boundaries of the Union to which the Rugby Body or Club is affiliated’. It alleges that by failing to enforce Regulation 4 with regards to French rugby academies operating in Fiji, World Rugby has breached Bye-Law 3(b), which states that it is responsible for ‘Establishing, interpreting and enforcing the Bye-Laws, the Regulations and the Laws of the Game’.

State capture of Rugby Unions

The Veilomani Report alleges that World Rugby has allowed ‘State capture’ of the FRU, and raises concerns that a similar process has unfolded with the Samoa Rugby Union (SRU) and Tonga Rugby Union (TRU). It alleges that there has been no ‘free and independent process’ for electing officials, contrary to World Rugby Bye-Law 6(e); and significant interference by State authorities, in contravention of Bye-Law 6(h). 

‘PRPW does not ask that the FRU, SRU or TRU’s membership of World Rugby is suspended or removed, but that World Rugby engages with them constructively to reform their governance, and that it implements higher governance standards of its own with which all Member Unions must comply’, reads the Report. ‘That World Rugby has been complicit in the poor governance of the Pacific Island Unions is about more than merely breaching the Bye-Laws or its Olympic commitments. By allowing these Unions to be so poorly managed, World Rugby is prejudicing their ability to compete in the modern professional game – in the sporting and commercial sense. In this regard, World Rugby fails to ensure background fairness.’

World Rugby management

The Report alleges that failure to hold member Unions to account over apparent breaches of its rules has crept into the management of World Rugby (see right). It outlines that the World Rugby Council voting system allows the Six Nations and Tier 1 rugby unions to control decision making.

What makes the Council voting system particularly unfair is that the voting is weighted in favour of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship Unions, by giving them an additional vote under Bye-Law 9.4(b), it reads. ‘Given that the most significant decisions of the Council require a three-quarter majority,  it is effectively impossible for the Tier 2 Unions to table a motion and expect it to pass. The Six Nations and Rugby Championship Unions (the Tier 1 Unions) collectively hold 58.8% of the voting power and thus have the strongest voice. Moreover, the election of the World Rugby Chair and Vice-Chair only requires a simple majority. Given that the Tier 1 Unions hold over 50% of the voting power, they are able to control World Rugby’s most senior elected offices.’

Under World Rugby Bye-Law 10.1.1(d), no employee or contractor of a Member Union can be elected to the World Rugby Executive Committee. ‘Yet, of the current ExCo members, Mark Alexander is the president of the South African Rugby Union, Gareth Davies is the chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union, John Jeffrey is the interim chairman of the Scottish Rugby Union and Bernard Laporte (Vice-Chairman) is the president of the Fédération Française de Rugby’, points out the Report.

The Report alleges that this consolidation of power amongst the Tier 1 rugby unions allows them to engineer favourable treatment in elite competitions, such as  during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. ‘When organisers shared their proposed original schedule with RWCL [Rugby World Cup Limited], Australia were to play Wales in Cardiff’, it explains. ‘According to a report by The Times, RWCL board member and then-Rugby Australia CEO, John O’Neill, was able to directly intervene in the scheduling process, forcing the Wales v Australia fixture to be moved from Cardiff to Twickenham – in Australia’s best interests’. 

The Report also alleges that match scheduling is arranged in favour of Tier 1 unions (see right), and that diversity within World Rugby governance doesn’t accurately reflect the Member Unions that make up the international federation. ‘PRPW notes that there are more men with the name “Brett” on ExCo than there are women, or people from a Black and minority ethnic (BAME) background’, it reads.

Conclusions

Just over a month after their election, Beaumont and Laporte commissioned a Governance Review, independently Chaired by Sir Hugh Robertson, Chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA) and a former UK Minister for Sport. World Rugby’s statement in response to the PRPW Report denies that anything untoward took place during the election of Beaumont and Laporte, and points out that a Governance Report commissioned by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) ranked it as a top performing federation.

Detail on the 14 members of the Working Group conducting World Rugby’s Governance Review…

If World Rugby is satisfied with its governance structures as its statement suggests, then why commission the Review in the first place? Just three of 14 members of the Working Group conducting the Review – which contains both Beaumont and Laporte, as well as World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper – can be considered independent (see right).

‘That members of ExCo and World Rugby’s other Committees may be able to determine the scope and findings of the Review is hugely objectionable and may limit the ability of the Working Group to make recommendations for the change that is needed’, reads the Report. ‘There are many significant potential conflicts of interest within the Working Group. It looks like World Rugby is marking its own homework.’

The PPRW Report outlines that it wrote four letters raising its concerns to World Rugby, all of which were ignored. Its findings suggest that in more than one area, World Rugby is either ignoring or failing to enforce its own rules and regulations. How can these two anomalies be explained if World Rugby’s governance structures are up to scratch, as the body claims?

The PRPW Report is based around the FRU’s support for Beaumont and Laporte in the May World Rugby elections. at first sight, it does appear odd that the FRU would vote for the two Tier 1 union candidates, when Argentina’s pro-reform candidate, Agustin Pichot, was standing against them. 

However, if the PPRW is correct in its findings and States are infiltrating rugby unions in the Pacific islands, then their vote for Beaumont and Laporte makes sense. It indicates that they don’t want change. And World Rugby’s sidestepping of the issues raised by the PPRW Report appears to indicate that it agrees.

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