Faaofonuu JP Junior Leota. Archive photo.

2 July, 2017. Samoa – After a winless Junior World Cup campaign in Georgia last month, some parents of the Samoa Under 20’s players chose to publicly speak out about what they viewed as inefficiencies within the Samoan Rugby Union in dealing with Samoa’s youth who took part in this years tournament. Robert and Sarah Lolesio of Brisbane Australia wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister and Chair of the SRU Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi alleging issues of negligence in handling player injuries and basic health. (Further parent concerns were also released publicly here:).  The Samoan Rugby Union responded to the Lolesio’s letter in a statement which appeared to place responsibility for some of the acknowledged concerns on the previous coach, Faaofonuu Junior Leota. 

Today, Samoa Planet has received this letter from Faaofonuu:

I am very well aware of the very serious accusations made against my character by the Samoa Rugby Union during my time as Head Coach for U20s Samoa Rugby Team.

Before I comment I would like to apologise to the Chairman of the Samoa Rugby Union and the Board of Directors for not fulfilling my role as Head Coach and delivering your expectations.

I would also like to apologise to my dear parents whom are all very hurt and very much affected by these accusations as they have been very supportive of me from the time I was selected as coach. My family and my village and my dear country Samoa, o a lava ni sese ma ni tuuaiga ua afaina ai o outou suafa mamalu, e faamalulu atu, e poto le tautai ae se lana atu i ama o a ni sese o la outou auauna nei, ia lafoia ile tuagalu. My wife and kids, thank you for your support from day one and I am very sorry on how this has defamed our family’s reputation and belittled my character as a husband and especially as a Father.

In 2016, I was selected as Assistant Coach for U20 that was prepping for the Junior Championships.  I had travelled to Zimbabwe with the team in the same year and we gained excellent results from this tournament.  As a result of this I was given the opportunity to apply and was selected to become Head Coach for our National U20s Team.

In my understanding of the issues raised from SRU that I hadn’t any training plans for the team, I believe there is no coach in any sport that does not have a plan.  I know that to have effective good coaching begins with good planning.  We had set the framework as a team and merely discussed this within our management thus making objectives and following up with evaluations bearing in mind the stage of growth and development of the players. At most times I would discuss my training plans with our trainer to coincide with his plans with the presence of everyone else in the management including our Technical Advisor who is now the head coach of U20s as we all had big plans and a great vision to push through with the team.

There were also times that my plans were rubbished and pushed under the table due to the Unions financial constraints, or in easier words, ‘JP e leai se kupe’.

Earlier this year we held trials where I travelled to Australia and New Zealand with two selectors, one as a representative of the rugby Union and the other Mahonri.  In reference to the number of players whom were invited to trial in Apia , the 50 as stated in the article by SRU is including all the Local players from Upolu and Savaii. With the overseas based players, the selector from the Rugby Union and I had approached and discussed with parents of the players invited to trial in Samoa explaining all the process and procedures, requirements, expenses and risks involved with the invitation. We had discussed accommodations and before heading to Australia I had discussed my plan with the Manager of the High Performance Unit , Brian Hopley and he was well aware and made no objections to this plan until later upon our return from the trials that he then disagreed with me.

In this regard I wanted to offer every possible player /kid out there with a passion to play for Samoa the opportunity to trial and give everyone the best chance made available to trial for team Samoa.  It was a way of involving not just rugby but adapting their love and respect for our culture for our country and I also believe it may influence them and all overseas based Samoans young players to have a desire to play for our Manu Samoa instead of All Blacks and other prominent teams despite the fact that we don’t have money.

The players under my watch as Head Coach who travelled from overseas were accommodated at the HPU headquarters at Tuanaimato.  However if the facilities were not up to standard as per expectations of parents, I really do apologise.  The HPU is looked after and managed by Brian Hopley.

I too have tried my best to help out with small things up at the Headquarters just to make the kids feel comfortable.  I understand it’s a training camp and we are not to offer luxury accommodation but I feel that the basic things that are needed like clean drinking water, toilet paper as mentioned in letter from Mrs Lolesio is overlooked by the Manager and are not provided and made available for players. In saying so at one stage I took my fridge up to HPU so the kids can keep their drinks and food cool. I had also sought sponsorships to get water coolers and refilled bottles of clean water, providing and paying for daily meals including fruits and energy drinks that were requested by the players only to name a few.

With my commitment to this team I made it my priority to take good care of the players making sure their basic needs are accommodated for. I will not go into details about all the other things that I had provided out of my own pocket and good heart. However I would like to place a very genuine comment that if Brian Hopley understood our way of living and valued our children living at HPU, there wouldn’t be any problems.

After the final selection of our team for Oceania, I decided that it will be beneficial for the team if we go into camp. Through sponsorship and support from my family and friends we were very fortunate to camp at St Therese prior to our Oceania tournament.  We moved here for camp for one week prior to Oceania.  It was never my intention to run away from the daily monitoring and overview of my training methods as mentioned in response by SRU.  The idea was very clear and came from a clean heart. I wanted to provide a different scenery and environment away from HPU and create a good atmosphere to motivate them and work on their skills development, tactical awareness and have them mentally and physically prepared for Oceania.

Duty of Care: At the Oceania Tournament, we went into a 3 hour meeting to discuss our loss against Australia and it was there I noted that there was conflict between the players, myself and the whole management.   We were working on issues and as to what every coach should do is to try and find ways to solve the problem hence the lengthy meeting. It was there that I saw my failures as well, as a coach, basically trying to keep the players in spirit and as a team.  Again I do apologise for this.  I received a message through the Trainer Keegan Murphy from SRU asking whether the meeting was of any relevance.  After the meeting the players, myself and management reconciled and reinstated our focus to do better.

We were then transit to Fiji and we went into a meeting with the Assistant Coach Setu Tuilaepa and Keegan Murphy as we had to finalise our team for world cup and have the final list sent to Brian Hopley and World Rugby ASAP.  This final list was sent from Fiji and Ethan Lolesio and Paul Faalogo were on the list.  The final list I believe where for IRB listings and travel bookings.  It is here I would like to emphasize on the promises I did not deliver and quoted from another serious accusation by SRU as these boys names were on our final list sent from Fiji for the World Cup.

Upon my arrival in Samoa from Oceania I was summoned by the Union and was asked to resign.

I felt great disappointment as I had a huge vision for the World Cup and I felt I had let my team and Samoa down.  Two weeks into world cup I know it was an unfair decision not only for me but also for the players.   There were possible alternatives and other avenues that could be used to save the Team before World Cup. I had bigger plans with my coaching career to serve Samoa, our people and mainly to develop our children in the sport of rugby but I understand they wanted me out so I respected their decision.

It was there I travelled to New Zealand to be with my family and our new bundle of blessings.

I apologise to the parents of the players if I had shown offensiveness or harmed them in any way through my coaching trainings.  If I failed  your children and if I caused and created emotions with the boys, I own up with my failures as a coach and I take full responsibility for my actions.

I would like to apologise to the parents of Ethan Lolesio again for failing and not delivering my part as coach.

Lastly I would like to relay my final remarks and my opinion to the Chairman and Board of the Samoa Rugby Union basically in reference to the High Performance Unit that if they ever were to make changes in the union I suggest we have someone  local who is capable of doing the job as manager of the HPU and have local qualified trainers as this is the foundation of rugby development in Samoa.  A person who understands our morals, our culture and has respect for our people and does not undermine the capability of local coaches and players.

I take this opportunity to wish Samoa Rugby Union, the Current Head Coach for U20s Mahonri Schwalger the team,  the management and all the future players all the Best.  In the hopes that we move forward from all this I sincerely wish everyone’s desires and completed.

God Bless!

1 COMMENT

  1. Talofa lava, I have been interested in reading this seemingly hubris situation of SRU and Samoan sporting expectations over reach and it seems very annoying to me that some toff from Queensland would dare to expect a third world country like Samoa to arise to their GPS schoolboy expectations.

    Well for starters, Im an ex-GPS old boy from the mid 1980s here in Brisbane, having been the first Samoan in the Brisbane State High School first XV. As a GPS old boy more accustomed to elite school boy expectations it would be a very humbling experience having to expect to be elevated to a higher level of international sporting competition with international honours with being a capped player for a first tier rugby nation like Samoa. It is rather a let down when you arrive in a third world country and suddenly realise that it is a THIRD WORLD country afterall.

    Now, my gripe is not against the SRU or the Samoan coach and management, it is the toffs from Brisbane who had not taken the time to realise that Samoa is a third world nation, a developing economy, with a paltry population that is even less than the population of Logan City.

    The fact that Samoa is obviously under resourced on many levels doesn’t give the Toffs from Brisbane the right to public humiliate a nation.

    What I will disagree with my friend here, however, is criticising non-local professional source of technical and logistical support. Notwithstanding, the seemingly cultural pride of Samoans, one must excuse the shortcomings of overseas sources of professional assistance for their obvious cultural ignorance with things Fa’aSamoa. Remember you hired them for their services, and, more importantly, for what they are qualified to do, and not for what they are, and how they are culturally aware of things Samoan. That awareness is contingent and will, undoubtedly, be learnt through a cultural immersion experience later.

    As for dissuading non-Samoan sources of expertise, firstly, place people that you need into the educational institutions in order to acquire the appropriate qualifications for the expertise that you need, ie, for a high performance Unit (HPU) specialist, before you spout off your criticism of foreigners for not knowing the wherewithal with Samoan cultural interactions. You will only succeed in burning more bridges and to cut more resources and developmental assistance for Samoan Rugby. Also, you will lose overseas fan base support for Samoa.

    Finally, on the issue of Samoans from overseas playing for Samoa.

    Im a first generation Australian Samoan, I was born in New Zealand in the 1960s and have been an Australian since the early 1980s. In that period, there were more Samoans living in Samoa than those living overseas. I had represented Samoa in rugby league in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Samoans required overseas based players then but it was not essential nor necessary then. However, nowadays, there are more Samoans born in New Zealand and Australia than Samoans living in Samoa. Very much like the Anglo-Saxons in America, in Australia and New Zealand. Samoans in Samoa will be resentful of Samoans born in Australia and New Zealand muscling in and playing for Samoa when they have superior coaching and rugby skills from more developed rugby backgrounds from New Zealand and Australia compared to the boys from Savai’i and outback Upolu. The fact, that international competition requires the very highest quality of competition for the sake of the nation will mean that Samoans from Australia, New Zealand will feel very compelled to arise to the occasion and to play for Samoa since it represents their ethnic culture as part of a multicultural New Zealand and a multicultural Australian community. Samoans in Australia are a droplet in the ocean and the only ounce of respect for Samoans throughout a multicultural community is not from Samoans playing in the Wallabies or the All Blacks but from those who play for Samoa. No one outside of Australia and New Zealand will know who the Samoan players are within the Australian and New Zealand national teams because they are simply known as Kiwis or Aussies and not as Samoans.

    You must realise that the importance of Samoans from Australia and New Zealand wanting to play for Samoa is not necessarily to promote the rugby careers of the individuals playing but rather it is important for the Samoans cultural identity within their respective multicultural communities within Australia and New Zealand. It is for their own sense of self identity for the Samoans in Queensland, New South Wales, New Zealand etc. Without their Samoan-ness they are merely Australian and New Zealanders and nothing else!!

    I would suggest that both parties in this public spat ought to come to some resolution and to realise that lessons are being learnt here.

    1. The SRU must be fully cognisant, and therefore must be made accountable and answerable, for all their managerial and administrative responsibilities including the vicarious responsibility for their head coaches, and staff.

    And, that they are compliant with IRB regulations, especially with regards to players health and safety whilst under their duty of care both on and off the field.

    2. Player well being. IRB compliance to concussion protocols (Head Injury Assessments (HIA)), for players returning to the field of play. With the HIA failed test, it is mandatory that a player is not permitted to return to the field of play, the SRU must be answerable, and fined, under IRB for breaches of the HIA regulations.

    3. That overseas players, and families, become realistic of the socio-economic realities of a third world economic situation of Samoa. Whilst ensuring the Maslow hierarchy of needs as a bare minimum human right for players and their families, that people must be able to be apply common sense to personal hygiene, food and clothing, and lines of communications with family and loved ones, whilst traveling overseas, ie, Africa, Europe etc.

    That is all.

    Good day.

    Tim

    from Brisbane.

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