Pacific players in limbo after Global Rapid Rugby cancels debut season

A host of Pacific rugby players face an uncertain future after the Global Rapid Rugby competition cancelled its inaugural season, less than two months before the proposed start date.

The brainchild of billionaire Western Force owner Andrew Forrest, eight teams from Australia, Asia and the Pacific Islands were originally on board to contest a four-month season in 2019, including entries representing Fiji and Samoa.

Pacific Rugby Players CEO Aayden Clarke said that number had dropped to six, after two teams pulled out.

He was in contact with Global Rapid Rugby officials only a few days ago, to discuss player welfare issues for the impending campaign, but said yesterday it was revealed the competition would not go ahead at all.

"We are disappointed because so much has been promised by GRR, but they have failed to deliver," he said.

"The big losers in this are the players who have made commitments to their team and GRR, they have given up work, made family decisions and passed up other contract opportunities, but are now left high and dry.

"There are 30 contracted players in Singapore who have been training since January specifically for this competition, there are many players in Fiji and Samoa who made commitments to this. So what happens to them now?"

"The look on a young Tongan player’s face today when I told him the professional contract he had planned to start in February is now cancelled, was quite gut-wrenching," revealed Clarke.

"I had to break the bad news to him because I know he was looking forward to being part of the Samoan franchise and that means to him it's missing out on a professional contract for six months and he returns back to playing club rugby in New Zealand.

"There's real loss from a human level when things like this go wrong and probably, from our perspective, what we're so disappointed in is that there's been a lot of promises and really no delivery and, as you know, there's a cost to that."

In a statement published on Thursday, Global Rapid Rugby admitted they simply ran out of time to deliver what had been promised.

"Since gaining World Rugby approval to stage an elite-level competition in mid-November last year, the Rapid Rugby management team has worked to ensure the inaugural home-and-away season provides the very best on and off-field sport and entertainment.

"That tight time frame and the intricacies of a World Cup year have led to a decision to commence the inaugural 8-team, 56 game home-and-away season in 2020."

Aayden Clarke acknowledged Global Rapid Rugby had been on shaky ground for a while but, with backing from World Rugby, Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby, there was still an expectation the competition would go ahead.

"There has been no lack of support from the various franchises, World Rugby and us player's associations to try make this competition happen and to work with GRR. We have invested a huge amount of time dealing with teams, players, contracts and agents and attempting to have a collaborative approach to ironing out the many of the frustrations of how this competition has been organised - but to no avail."

"Many offered the opinion to GRR that they should wait till 2020 to start and provide a long runway to prepare properly but instead it was pushed for 2019 and then cancelled at the last minute."