With the well publicized move of Sonny Bill Williams to Japan later this year, for me it is another All Black back leaving our shores that should serve as a warning to the New Zealand rugby powers that be. The news of utility man Isaia Toeava taking up a two year contract with the Canon Eagles in Japan should come as a hammer blow to the NZRU, and a wakeup call to its administrators.
It seems that yet another elite player is waltzing off into the wild blue yonder, to ply their trade in a more fruitful foreign league in the name of money. But who can blame them? With a ‘life expectancy’ of about ten years at the top level of rugby union, each and every player should maximise their earning potential, in what is sometimes a harsh, undefined and uncertain career.
At 26 years of age, Toeava is in what you would call ‘the prime’ of his sporting life and the next four years will see whichever club he represents get the best out of him as a rugby player.
The issues with this are that, one, if he excels at the club he is not eligible to play for the All Blacks because he is not based in New Zealand and, two, what, if anything, did the Auckland provincial, Blues franchise or New Zealand rugby unions get paid for letting Toeava go?
In the English Premier League, it has recently been announced that Arsenal club captain, Robin Van Persie, will not renew his contract, with only 12 months to run until it expires.
The Arsenal football club have two options: the first is to hold onto Van Persie, utilise him for the forthcoming season, and then let him leave on a free transfer next summer when his contract finishes; or second, sell him to another club (probably champions Manchester City) for a hefty fee, and bank the cash.
It is being touted that the transfer fee could be in the region of £30m (NZD$58m) for a player that won the golden boot last season, and almost single-handedly fired Arsenal into third - after Manchester City and Manchester United respectively. What is more incredible is that Van Persie joined Arsenal from his native Holland in 2004 for a fee of about £2.75m ($5.33m) which means in the eight years he has been there the club stand to make a £27m ($52m) profit!
Although Toeava originally heralded from Samoa, he was part of the New Zealand rugby production line, being heavily invested in by all the schools, clubs and unions he has represented. Why is it that the New Zealand economy cannot make a profit from one of the most talented backs to have played in the last half decade?
These clubs from Japan and France can afford to pay their players more than an All Black earns, for a sometimes easier time during the season. Why can the unions that have groomed the player not also benefit from the transaction?
In a world where professional sport is swimming with money, New Zealand rugby seems to be just treading water.