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There is plenty to be happy about following the announcement that Salesi Sika will be the Head Coach of the Utah Warriors this coming season.
Sika is a smart guy with a long professional rugby career behind him. When he retired from rugby, I asked him about coaching, and he said he was certainly interested, but needed to settle back at home first. I am pleased to see that didn’t take too long. To have Sika back in the game in the USA is a positive thing, just as it has been when other former Eagles get involved in pushing rugby forward.
But for me, the special aspect about Sika is that he is Polynesian. Rugby in America is a wonderful cross-section of ethnicities. What used to be considered, on these shores at least, a heavily-white game is not so anymore. Players of Tonga, Samoan, Fijian, and Hawaiian descent have all done their part to make that happen.
The next step is to encourage opportunities for those players in the coaching ranks.
One of the curious things I’ve seen in this sport is that we have plenty of Polynesian coaches, but they are often coaching teams that are 80-95% Polynesian. Same goes, to some extent, for Kenyan coaches. But why should that be? Just as Kevin Battle and Don Ferrell are considered top coaches (not top African American coaches), why can’t we recognize the success of the likes of Olo Fifita (who helped coach Hayward to a national club title), or Kenyan Kevin Immonje, who has led Boston’s 7s team back to prominence?
I would love to see more Polynesian coaches emerge as coaches for select sides, college teams, and eventually the Eagles, not because we need a Pacific guy on the list, but because they know what they’re doing. We all know the names – coaches we have respect for, or players who are close to retirement and who would make outstanding coaches when they hang up the boots.
And I think they should be encouraged, not through some need for affirmative action, but simply because it’s a talent pool the sport needs to take advantage of.
It’s logical, of course, that if you have a national team with a lot of Polynesian players on it, having a Polynesian coach could help with communication, but I hesitate to make that argument. A Tongan coach shouldn’t just be there for the Tongans on the team, he’s there for all of us.
Good luck Salesi, I hope you do well. You will certainly learn a lot (and good coach does). And, no pressure, but I hope your appointment helps mainstream the idea that not only are Polynesian and Kenyan coaches valuable and smart and good at what they do, but that is true regardless of the ethnic makeup of the team they are coaching.