Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Michael Fay plans two-day talks on Pasifika proposal

By CHRIS RATTUE

Samoan rugby and their business partners Fay Richwhite will talk in Auckland this month over the Warriors owners' bid to become involved with the tiny rugby nation.

Sir Michael Fay and Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the chairman of the Samoan Rugby Union, have planned two days of talks. Fay Richwhite has been kept in the dark over the latest moves in the Pasifika saga, and is baffled by some media reports about the intentions of Cullen Sports, who own the league club.

But the merchant bankers appear at least open to the possibility of Cullen becoming involved, while wanting to continue their role.

Cullen chief executive Mick Watson told Samoa Television last night that they wanted a partnership, and denied wanting to "buy" the Samoan side.

Neither Watson nor rugby officials would reveal much detail of Cullen's proposal after they met in Apia this week.

Watson said business methods used to run the Warriors would be applied to the Samoan team and that the development of rugby, not "pure dollars", was the motivation.

"The arrangement is that Samoan rugby and Cullen Sports could become intertwined in a partnership to actually help them get better scheduling, better opportunities and better games," Watson said.

Fay Richwhite told the Herald yesterday they had not heard from Cullen, which owns the Warriors.

Samoan rugby's acting chief executive Saipele Esera said from Apia that repeated newspaper claims about a buy-out were incorrect.

"We are looking at business models. I keep saying, Samoan rugby is not for sale for $5 million," Esera said.

The buy-out claims have appeared during the controversial attempt by Cullen Sports to enter a Pacific Islands franchise in the Super 12, and run a Pasifika test team made up of Samoan, Tongan and Fijian players.

The Samoan test team is currently run by Manu Samoa Rugby Ltd, whose majority shareholder is Fay Richwhite.

Fay, who has been in South America for the past six weeks, is the chairman of the board, which includes two SRU representatives.

Fay takes a strong personal interest from his Geneva home, speaking with MSRL's Auckland-based general manager Julie Kennedy about three times a week. Fay Richwhite owns 60 per cent of the company, Samoan rugby 20 per cent and a players' trust 20 per cent.

The players were initially given an interest to share profits, but there has never been a surplus.

Instead, Sir Michael has put $4.5 million into the company over eight years, major backers adidas have invested about $5 million over five years, and the IRB is the other main financial contributor through grants.

"We've got no idea what the meetings with Cullen this week have involved," Kennedy said. "Sir Michael will go into the meeting with the Prime Minister with an open mind and see what is tabled.

"We need to look at all options about what is best for Samoan rugby. We're open to what their [Cullen's] ideas are.

"Sir Michael is very keen to continue his involvement with the team. People don't realise how strong his commitment is.

"Until we get some information about what is behind this, we can only take it at face value.

"It would have to involve Fay Richwhite. The basis of the agreement in October 1995 was the administration of the national team was passed over to the company."

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