Players with Pacific Island heritage have boycotted the National Rugby League and Australian Super Rugby competitions to protest Australia’s inaction on climate change and the damage to the homes of their ancestors.
Players whose families come from Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have thrown the competitions into disarray and are refusing to play until the Australian government and the Australian people take real action to combat the disastrous effects of the climate crisis on low-lying islands.“Pacific Island nations are under threat, and Australia is largely to blame” began a joint statement from the players. The climate crisis is already having a devastating impact on island nations throughout the South Pacific. Rising sea levels carry saltwater into fresh water lakes and onto farms where crops are destroyed. Unpredictable seasons make farming more difficult and more severe weather causes human and economic damage throughout the region. Natural disasters are an increasing threat and entire nations could be underwater as sea levels continue to rise. Australia is a major contributor to the climate crisis. It has the highest per-capita carbon footprint of any nation on earth, due largely to a dependence on the fossil fuel industry, land clearing and traditional agricultural practices. It is lagging in the adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles, and incentives for household solar installation are being removed. Alternative transport is not being embraced, and new coal mines are being proposed, even on the fringes of world heritage listed national parks. “When this country starts acting at a day-to-day level and a national level to reverse the effects of the climate crisis, then we will return to the NRL and Super Rugby competitions.” The NRL and Australian Super Rugby teams have been left scrambling to find elite players since the shock announcement, as their teams rely heavily on talented players with Pasifika heritage. Both codes are desperately searching reserve grade teams, country teams and overseas competitions for players before fans, media networks and sponsors desert the codes. “The only people who are happy about this are commentators like Ray Warren who can’t pronounce our names, but otherwise it will decimate the sports at the elite level.” The players are adamant that this decision was not taken lightly. “We love our sports. We love the competition and know how lucky we are to make a living out of the game we love. We are sacrificing a lot personally with this boycott, but that is how serious and desperate the situation is in the countries where some of us were born, and where all of us have family.” The players will continue to play their respective sports, but not for their existing NRL or Super Rugby teams. “Most of the boys will keep playing at local club level, to stay sharp and fit. A lot of us are also thinking of playing in New Zealand, because the travel bubble just opened and at least the Kiwis are trying to do something to protect the environment. That means we can play for NZ-based Super Rugby teams, or for the New Zealand Warriors. Looks like the Warriors will finally win a premiership.” Indigenous Australian players have joined the move, as the farms and mines driving climate change sit on their land, and Aboriginal people witness the destruction first hand. The boycott of the NRL will also include the State of Origin competition. This means that NSW and Queensland will be without male players such as Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell, Daniel Tupou, Blake Ferguson, Xavier Coates, Jack Bird, Kotoni Staggs, Jack Wighton, Cody Walker, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Tyson Frizell, Junior Paulo, Jarome Luai, Jayden Su’A, Stephen Crichton, David Fifita, Felise Kaufusi, Payne Haas, Daniel Saifiti and Josh Papali’i.” Australia must now take decisive action to protect the natural environment, if it wants to see the best players competing in the NRL and Super Rugby competitions, as Pasifika players have promised to stand firm. “We are prepared to do this in order to save the lands of our families and ancestors.” Image: Stephen Tremain