Explosive accusations against Fijian rugby boss, as World Rugby vote looms

Pacific Island players' representatives have made further explosive allegations against Fijian rugby boss Francis Kean, including claims he bullied a Kiwi woman towards suicide.

The Fiji Rugby Union chairman is bidding for a seat on World Rugby's executive committee and has controversially endorsed Sir Bill Beaumont to retain his role as chairman in a hotly contested vote.

But a Sunday Times investigation by noted Welsh rugby journalist Stephen Jones has exposed Kean's violent past and the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare organisation has poured more petrol on that fire in an open letter to World Rugby.

"A New Zealand citizen, living in Fiji, took her own life in November 2015, after a run-in with Kean, when she tried to open a rugby academy," claims PRPW director Dan Leo, who played 39 tests for Manu Samoa. 

"Julie Alexander received a letter from Kean on November 24, quoting World Rugby regulation 4 and demanding 'immediately stop your misleading representations and operation of your rugby academy in Fiji'.

"Complaining that Fiji's regime was trying to cut off her internet, her last social media post on November 27 said, 'Off to bed now, see you tomorrow if I am not murdered in my sleep'.

Alexander's post continued to say: "IRAFJ so many threatened - can't for the life of me think why - I wouldn't want to be working as hard as me!"

IRAFJ refers to Alexander's International Rugby Academy of Fiji, while regulation 4 deals with international player recruitment, although Leo points out French clubs operated at least three similar academies in Fiji at the time, all endorsed by Kean. 

"She was admitted to hospital the next day and passed away on November 29," says Leo. "A source close to the family has since informed me that her state of mind was affected deeply by Kean's stand-over tactics and reputation for violence."

Kean, who is the brother-in-law of Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, earned his 'killer' reputation, when he was convicted of manslaughter, after punching and kicking a guest to death at a family wedding in 2007.

He was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment, but was released early.

Ironically, he now serves as Corrections Commissioner under Bainimarama's Government and World Rugby is already investigating allegations of homophobia in that role.

"World Rugby notes allegations in the UK Sunday Times about Fiji Rugby Union chairman Ratu Vilikesa Bulewa Francis Kean and takes them extremely seriously," the organisation says.

"Rugby is a sport built on strong and inclusive values, and World Rugby does not in any way condone any abusive or discriminatory behaviour, as outlined within its bye-laws.

"World Rugby is currently in dialogue with the Fiji Rugby Union about the nature of the allegations and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time."

Kean currently represents Fiji on the world council, but his position within Fijian and world rugby has come under intense scrutiny this week, because his union has backed Beaumont to retain his seat at the head of the governing body.

While Beaumont's challenger - former Argentinian captain Agustin Pichot - is appealing to the game's developing nations to lead a rugby revolution, Fiji (under Kean's leadership) has inexplicably broken ranks to support the status quo, in return for a seat at the table. 

PRPW is an independent, not-for-profit group representing about 700 professional and semi-professional players in UK and Europe - about a third of them are Fijian.

"You may have thought, as Pacific Islanders, we would fall in line in support of Kean," says Leo. "But it is extraordinary to anyone involved in the game in the Pacific that Kean is even on the ballot.

"His time in office has become a byword for intimidation, vindictiveness, corruption and self-dealing, nepotism, and the threat and realisation of violence. This is all conducted in plain sight."

World Rugby insists it cannot control who member nations nominate to fill seats on its council.

"I find myself asking this obvious question: why does World Rugby have some of the most elaborate and exhaustive eligibility checks for those who play the game, but apparently no checks for someone wanting to run the game?" says Leo.

"Even when that person couldn't get a visa to watch Fiji in the opening match of the 2015 RWC or the 2018 RWC sevens, because of his criminal record for violent killing."

The result of the World Rugby vote is due to be announced on May 12.

Newshub has approached Francis Kean, through the Fijian Rugby Union, for comment.