A new rugby franchise to the US national competition may provide a life-line for some Pacific islands rugby players.
The website of Hawaii-based Kanaloa Rugby bears the quote, “From the depths of breadths of the sea; strength and courage shall rise”. It’s a fitting sentiment as the world, and world sport, is ravaged by COVID-19.
“Kanaloa is a culmination of 16 years of community rugby services offered to the wider Maori and Pasifika community,” says CEO, Tracy Atiga. “ The founding roopu behind Kanaloa Hawaii believes in the potential for the community to thrive through the values and efforts of giving back. In January 2021, The Colorado Raptors unfortunately withdrew from the MLR competition, [Major League Rugby- th U.S. league] leaving an opportunity for a willing franchise to bid for an entry into the league. This is when Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby took flight”.
Players of Pacific Island heritage play in competition, and represent nations all over the world. So we asked the CEO if this could be another stepping stone for our rugby players to rise, showcase their talents and secure good contracts?
“The beauty of having a club that is driven by Maori and Pasifika values and village ethos is our commitment to encouraging and supporting our athletes to play for their home nation,” Atiga responded. “Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby offers a unique stance that all players that are selected for national honours are to be encouraged to participate and financially supported throughout the said national campaign. We are challenging other clubs to follow suit. We believe that if a club does not release a player for national representation then they have limited trust and faith in the depth of their players and their coaching staff. Here at Kanaloa, we back our coaching roopu and our emerging players to step up when the opportunity presents itself. In other words, if we lose 23 starting line-up players to the RWC or the Olympic Games then we will celebrate and support those players and we will still progress to a championship through faith and encouragement of our emerging players”.
To help establish the club’s foundations and cultivate it to blossom, Kanaloa has acquired the services of a few big names and rugby legends in its management ranks. Former All Blacks stars such as Joe Rokocoko, Anthony Tuitavake, Ben Atiga and two-time Webb Ellis Cup winner Jerome Kaino have taken interests in developing Kanaloa into a club best suited for our Pacific rugby talents.
“Our former All Blacks have devoted the past 16 years of their lives to giving back to the game. The chance to now give back as club owners provides direct advocacy and decision making opportunities to make things right. Operationally, our former All Blacks are rallying together to attract other like-minded sports professionals, celebrities and members of the global rugby community to embrace this new way of doing business and changing the world one day at a time,” Atiga says.
The main feature of the club is the use of traditional and communal practices of working together as a community—as a group of Pacific Islands people—to carry each other forward and achieve more in life through rugby.
“One of our policies that support our village ethos and portray the way we are living our values is the fact that our entire team of staff are being paid the same base hourly wage. From the CEO to our players to our rugby development officers”.
We know that rugby continues to grow around the world as a global sport. And for the Pacific Islands, rugby over the many years has evolved from just being a past time game that everyone loves to play and having the pride of representing our nations in the world stages – to now totally becoming a guaranteed career path to earn a living. Nowadays, rugby is essentially a job, and for a player to do it professionally and play in lucrative overseas franchises – that is the ultimate goal. Kanaloa just might be that much needed life-line for local talents to thrive in overseas rugby competitions and in this case it’s in the United States of America.
*[Roopu: is a Maori word that means group, party of people, company or committee]