Wellington, New Zealand (4E Sports) – After accepting the coaching gig with the Fiji rugby sevens team, coach Ben Ryan was surprised when he discovered that it was running on an empty tank.
Ryan also worked the first few months of his contract without salary because the cash-strapped Fiji Rugby Union could not pay his wages.
“I didn’t get paid for four months,” Ryan said. “Once I signed up I could see that the funding wasn’t there. There was no point in my kicking up a fuss. I’d agreed to something, and I was going to keep to my word.”
In January, the union received a grant from the Fiji National Sports Commission to cover Ryan’s $160,000 salary for 2014, and he is now being paid.
However, the 42-year-old Ryan has other issues that need financing to address.
“We didn’t have any resources at home for the basics of running things, like bottled water, petrol to get us to training, rugby balls or any expenses for the players,” Ryan said. “Staff were let go as well.”
Lack of financial resources is nothing new for the FRU, which operates on a shoestring budget compared with the millions of dollars spent annually by the likes of rugby powerhouses New Zealand, England, South Africa, France and Australia.
Fiji, on the other hand, lost $1.75 million funding from the International Rugby Board in January because of concerns about the financial management and governance of the FRU.
Ryan and his sevens players did not escape the impact, which hit just before the team traveled to tournaments in Las Vegas and Wellington.
During his six-year stint as England sevens coach, Ryan was used to having nutritionists, physiotherapists, sports psychologists, strength and conditioning coaches, analysts, managers, assistant managers, performance directors and high-tech training aids, like GPS tracking devices.
“In Fiji it’s me,” Ryan said. “I’m in charge of the whole program. I’ve got a physio and a manager.”
Despite lack of resources, Fiji has traditionally had a strong sevens team. It won the IRB world series title in 2005-06 and since then has placed second over all three times, and fourth over all three times. Last season it finished third.
While he has the talent to work with, Ryan has to start from scratch in terms of good nutrition and diet. They are also unfamiliar with some of the training and preparation techniques that are second nature in more developed nations.
“It’s reminded me that sport at the highest level is still all about the basics,” he said. “All the whistles and horns you get at the top end in some of the more developed nations with your monitoring systems and your high-tech gadgets and the various other things, you’ve still got to pass the ball and make your tackles. That doesn’t change.”