Manu Samoa - they fought a battle on and off the field

By now you’ve heard or read the report from Manu Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger to Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, outlining in detail what went on behind the scenes in the Manu Samoa’s Rugby World Cup 2011 campaign. Is this Schwalger’s attempt at getting back at the system? Is Schwalger being a whiner and a crybaby? Is he doing it for fame and fortune?

History, on the contrary, shows us that Schwalger’s incendiary charges against the status quo are his attempt to take responsibility for what must happen now to secure Samoa Rugby’s future. As United States President Abraham Lincoln once said of responsibility, ““You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Schwalger’s stand against those in power is a stride forward as a people, not as an individual. That is the mark of a true leader.

Are you shocked by his allegations? Truthfully, this should not come as a shock to anyone who has ever had dealings with any organization that has a history of back-door politics, a totalitarian leadership, dishonest practices and a unilateral decision making process that shuns its nose at opposition and holds its cards close to its chest.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Schwalger fingers the four men who have a near absolute hold over the Samoa Rugby Union (SRU), namely CEO Su’a Peter Schuster, Vice Chairman Lefau Harry Schuster, Team Manager Tuala Mathew Vaea and Assistant Team Manager Ryan Schuster. In their hands these four men had the power to construct and execute a flawless campaign, provide leadership and direction, instill a sense of calm and security and put in place a well-oiled system for the team to draw from the fiscal and expressive support of its governing body and people.

Instead, according to Schwalger, the team suffered through financial uncertainty, numerous external disruptions, a lack of managerial output and support, a mismanagement of funds and access to crucial information and resources and so on and so forth. Ask yourself this question – Can you even run a junior league soccer team this way let alone a team of professional rugby players? The answer is a clear and an unequivocal ‘No’.

From the outset there appeared to be no indication of the malignancy and ineptitude in the overall operation and management of the team. It would seem, however, from Schwalger’s letter that what happened on the surface is contrary to what was happening behind the scenes. That is a credit to the Manu Samoa players and coaches and a black eye for the SRU board and its members.

Schwalger, who along with his Manu Samoa teammates, showed enormous poise, professionalism and humility while representing Samoa throughout the tournament, a true testament of their loyalty and love for the people of Samoa. Through their actions, the firm of Schuster, Schuster, Vaea and Schuster (SSVS) showed the exact opposite in their reckless disregard for the people of Samoa who raised funds, many from their meager earnings, to assist Manu Samoa in their efforts. While Schwalger and the boys bled, fought and yearned for their country, the SSVS management team showed a lack of compassion and an overall disdain for Samoa as a whole through their mismanagement of the team and their revelry at the expense of Manu Samoa, a nation and its people.

So what can Samoa’s Prime Minister and President of the SRU do to patch up the sizeable hole in the sinking Manu Samoa ship? Perhaps the Prime Minister can take these humble suggestions to heart:

1) Conduct an independent audit – Reports indicate that the PM has already commissioned an independent audit of financial records but what firm has he hired to take on this monumental task and have those records already been secured or will we be reading about an ‘Enron-esque’ destruction of records to cover the paper trail? Is there even a paper trail to follow? To ensure absolute transparency and the trust of the people, I would suggest that the audit is conducted by a firm outside of Samoa with no obvious or implied biases.

2) Conduct interviews – Appoint a committee to conduct interviews of past and present Manu Samoa players, coaches and management. Like the audit firm, the committee should again consist of individuals who are themselves properly screened by an independent panel to confirm that there are no apparent biases or loyalties. During the interviews compile a list of discrepancies, positives, negatives or managerial issues that have spanned the tenure of the current SRU board and its members.

3) Clean house – based on the findings of the audit and from the interviews and sworn statements taken during the inquiry, make a final assessment and clear out the offenders. By taking the first two steps you have the evidence to support Schwalger’s claims to remove those who have become a burden to Samoa and its efforts.

Samoa’s leaders often speak of ‘transparency’ in its efforts to run a smooth and orderly system of government. The people of Samoa are entitled to an answer in light of Mahonri Schwalgers allegations of corruption and mismanagement. Why? Because the people of Samoa honored its sons, Manu Samoa with their hard earned money and therefore became a silent partner in the RWC campaign. Samoans and fans of Manu Samoa have been dealt a big blow by Schwalger’s revelations. We have been duped by a group of elitists who have cashed in on the hopes of a nation and they should be dealt with severely if these allegations prove to be true.

Samoa’s motto is “”Fa’avae Samoa i le Atua” (Samoa is founded on God) and it is upon that barometer of values and morals that Samoa prides itself upon that our actions should be judged. If the actions of these four men and to an extent those who conspired with them during the Rugby World Cup to enjoy themselves on Samoa’s bill are substantiated, than this is a clear act of insensitive, inconsiderate selfishness such as I have rarely encountered in my life.

I love Samoa and it is evident from media reports that Mahonri Schwalger and his Manu Samoa teammates who have now been disbanded all love Samoa as well. Why else would they play for a team that literally made them pay for the right to play for Samoa? Reading the reports of these injustices sullies the image of our people and discredits the efforts of our proud sons and daughters who represent us in sport, the arts, education and more.

Aristotle sums up our responsibility in this manner – “”We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.” I commend captain Schwalger for his courage and all those who have rallied behind him to bring about a lasting and judicial change to a broken system.