Fiji suffered a record defeat by England at Twickenham over the weekend after going into the game without several key players, all of whom are based in France.
The Fijian Rugby Union has lodged a formal complaint with their French counterparts and the International Rugby Board is being urged to take strong action.
Latest reports suggest the IRB is considering an amnesty for European clubs that have broken the rules, in exchange for a guarantee that their actions won't be repeated, but the President of the Oceania Federation of Rugby Unions, Harry Schuster, says the offending clubs can't be trusted.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Harry Schuster, President of the Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions
SCHUSTER: We rely on the laws being enforced across the board equally amongst all the IRB members, irrespective of whether you're a big union or a small union and the rules are very clear, train at this window in November and June, players will be released to play for their country. It makes it extra difficult for us a small union to promote our best ranking, when our best players are not available when we want them to be available.
EWART: There is a suggestion that's emanating from the British media at the moment that there maybe an amnesty granted to the clubs that have been doing this sort of thing and offering players incentives not to play for their countries in test matches. If that were to come to fruition, if that amnesty were to be offered, what would be the Pacific's view of that?
SCHUSTER: Effectively it would kill us, because it means there is no rule that we can rely on which will make the player available to us.
EWART: Even if the amnesty was offered in return for a cast iron guarantee that the guilty clubs didn't repeat what they've done in the past?
SCHUSTER: There's less guarantee that it won't happen again in the future. But what I would question is why is the expectation of this arrangement now that the clubs will live by this arrangement in the future. It's not as if this thing has occurred irregularly. It's something that's been happening over the past years.
EWART: Do you think basically that the International Rugby Board, the IRB, is just to weak on this issue, that it's being pushed around by the stronger nations?
SCHUSTER: Well, the law is very clear, it's not quite an issue of being weak or anything like that. There is the player to consider as well. We can't clearly say it's the club that's pushing it or the player, because if the players got payments to be made, and he gets more money playing for a club rather than playing an international side, that's one area where we don't really know whether its the player or the club that's holding the player back. But one thing that is clear that the rule says that during the test when those players should be made available so the international teams have their best players playing for them in the ranking test match. And if that's not the scenario, then we have a case where our ranking is affected by our best players not being available as we would like.
EWART: If you compare what is happening in the world of international rugby with what happens in the world of international football. I mean a similar rule exists under FIFA and to the best of my knowledge, the clubs stick to it pretty rigidly, be it Real Madrid, Manchester United or a smaller club from somewhere else around the world. So if FIFA can make the rule work, why do you think the IRB can't?
SCHUSTER: Well, part of our position on that is that the FIFA cycle is very well set. The world competitions are very well planned, which doesn't really give right to the problem we've got which is different cycles, different seasons and we end up wanting our players for the windows that we're in, but they definitely played in a competition in which a professional club is paying for them. I understand what you mean about the FIFA rules are strictly enforced. Now I'm not quite sure why the IRB rules are enforcing a similar manner.
EWART: Whether or not the IRB ultimately decides to offer an amnesty to the guilty clubs. Do you think if they do offer an amnesty, it should be accompanied by the threat of very strict sanctions for those clubs who breach the rules in the future?
SCHUSTER: They naturally stick to the case, so they should pay a heavy fine. It's also quite a complex situation, because they come to the Pacific, because it's pretty easy getting players from us, as opposed to go to more expensive union. But at the same time, they should respect the existing laws that are at during the windows, we should be allowed to have our players.
EWART: It does seem a little ironic that at a time when finally the Pacific nations appear to be getting more matches against the leading nations, that what is happening is you're being offered the fixtures, but certainly in the case of Fiji over the weekend against England, they can't put out their best side?
SCHUSTER: That's true, and also Richard as you note, that Argentina has joined the Southern Hemisphere Competition and most of their players used to play in Europe. That's where the European clubs are getting their players from. The question now is where are they going to get the players to fill that vacuum? It looks like it's going to come from us and it looks like we're going to be the ones that suffer still.
EWART: There are reports from New Zealand that players in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are discussing the possibility of forming a Pacific-based Players Union. I presume if that is the case, that shows that the players are obviously increasingly angry about what is happening?
SCHUSTER: There's been talk of the Pacific Islands forming a Players Union and Rob Nicholls, in New Zealand, has been instrumental on that and it's a good development.
EWART: Would it help do you think to try and solve this problem of players largely being exploited by European clubs?
SCHUSTER: Well at the of the day, when it comes to signing a contract, it's only an individual player that signs on his behalf, so the clubs will still have the upperhand.
EWART: So does that mean you're not optimistic about this matter being sorted out and a more even playing field being created?
SCHUSTER: It's a big problem that we have very little control of, because we're a small union and being a small union, we don't have money to spend on suing some unions to enforce the law.