Pacific Islands rugby stars fear more “tragedies” like the suicide of Tarbes prop Isireli Temo unless they act now over issues of loneliness and depression.
The Pacific Rugby Players’ Welfare (PRPW) group has extended its organisation to France, a year ahead of schedule — because players in the country insisted they needed help urgently.
Fijian prop Temo died in December 2016, and Pacific Islanders based in France have now banded together to combat depression and isolation among their community in Europe.
Fiji hooker Sunia Koto reached out to PRPW chief executive Dan Leo to extend their service to France. The Macon front-rower had to inform Temo’s family of his death, and insists he never wants to have to carry that burden again.
“That’s one of the most dreadful experiences I’ve gone through, having to share that news with his family,” Koto told Press Association Sport, of breaking the news of Temo’s death.
“Personally going through that, I just want to dedicate the rest of my time in rugby and in France towards stopping any more tragedies like that.
“It’s so important for players to know that this group is there, where people will have time to listen to your problems and help you deal with them.
“We pride ourselves on not showing our emotions. We’ll make jokes but we hide that fragile part in us.
“But now we’re trying to say, ‘hey, this is a different world altogether’.
“We’ve got each other to confide in, so open up and share your experiences.
“This is all for future generations, so that they don’t have to go through some of the same difficulties we did.”
Leo’s PRPW organisation will now set about gaining accurate figures for the number of Pacific Islanders plying their trade in France.
The former Samoa lock admitted previous estimations of 300 are now expected to fall way short, with potentially almost 500 Pacific Islanders trying to make a living from rugby in France.
A host of high-profile stars based in France have assumed roles on PRPW’s players’ board, with former Samoa flanker Henry Tuilagi among the biggest names.
Chief executive Leo admitted PRPW fast-tracked their mission in France on advice from players who fear further incidents could occur without great community support.
“We initially thought it would be another 12 months before we moved into France, but senior players based there expressed some strong issues, so we’ve been able to accelerate that timescale,” said Leo.
“We’ve massively underestimated how many Pacific Islanders are playing rugby in France.
“We thought initially there would be something like 300 but now we believe it could be closer to 500 Pacific Islanders based in France alone.
“We’ll get more of a handle on that in the next few months as we spread the word.
“There are Pacific Islands players at clubs in the lower leagues in France that other Pacific Islanders still aren’t aware of, and that’s one of the issues we’re trying to address.”