Fijian pair discover the high cost of loyalty to country

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 1996, 12:00am

Fiji captain and tighthead prop Joeli Veitayaki and full-back Filipe Rayasi are two people who know all about making sacrifices for their country.

The pair have been fined NZ$4,000 each by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union for breaching their contracts with national provincial team King Country to join the tour of Hong Kong.

The figure may not sound much for most people in Hong Kong, but for Veitayaki and Rayasi it probably counts for a lot.

Seven other players who were in the same position as the pair had to return to New Zealand, Australia or Japan to play for clubs in their adopted countries - simply for the money.

Unlike Veitayaki and Rayasi, they might have lost their contracts if they had not returned.

Veitayaki and Rayasi will be out of pocket by the time the Hong Kong tour ends. According to Fiji coach Brad Johnstone, the Fiji Rugby Union hardly has enough funds even to buy blazers, let alone contract their players and give them security.

'We can't even afford to give the players a pair of new boots. Most of the equipment we have is two years old,' said Johnstone, who is trying bravely to turn the fortunes of Fiji.

Money is everything in rugby union these days. You need only look at the horse trading going on in England to realise how far down the road the one-time 'amateur' code has come.

The English players did not bat an eye when the RFU offered them 70,000 quid. On the other hand, you get Fiji. Life is tough. But what matters is that here we have two people who have forsaken money to play for their country.

They must be a throwback to the old days.

But despite the sacrifices they have to make the Fijians are desperate to represent their country. Whatever opportunities they get they grab with both hands.

In this respect, Hong Kong are fortunate to have both the finances and an avenue for regular international fixtures. We may not realise it, but the territory are spoilt for choice in comparison to Fiji.

The annual Pacific Rim Championship, the biennial Asian Championships and regular reciprocal tours to our Asian neighbours Korea and Japan has given the territory a busy schedule.

As for money, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) is in far better shape than its Fijian counterpart.

The gratitude showered on the HKRFU by the Fijians for underwriting the tour must be put in perspective.

Everything is being taken care of by the HKRFU. Air fares were subsidised by Air New Zealand. The hotel costs are subsidised by Furama and the Union bears the rest. They have also given the Fijians a daily allowance to take care of laundry and transport.

In return, Hong Kong have got an attractive team touring the territory. Tickets for yesterday's game were priced at $100. For next Saturday's Test - at the Hong Kong Stadium - it will be $120 and $200. The Union expect to cover their outlay and more, especially with the two Tests being linked to the ballot for the World Cup Sevens. And the tour is being used as a build-up for the Asian championships.

While Fiji are thankful for the invitation, it must be remembered that Hong Kong rugby - a very profitable body - does not make any move without thinking twice.