After five years of navigating the somewhat turbulent waters of Pacific rugby, Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) chief executive Aayden Clarke has stepped down from his role following the announcement two Pasifika teams will join the 2022 Super Rugby competition, something he and the PRP team worked tirelessly to achieve. Aayden’s resignation comes at a poignant time for PRP, an organisation, he believes will continue to go from strength to strength…
Making a positive impact – whether it is on or off the field – is important for former Hawkes Bay Magpies player and outgoing Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) chief executive Aayden Clarke.
Of Ngāti Kahungunu descent, with roots in Wairoa, Aayden found himself working at PRP five years ago, an organisation which represents the collective welfare of current and emerging professional Pacific island rugby players across the world.
Established in 2013, PRP has undergone some huge shifts while Aayden has been at the helm, always trying to lead with a positive and solution-focused attitude.
When he first started, he was presented a handover document, with just six bullet points on it, he shares.
“We have come a long way since then, we have staff all over the world, we are recognised as a fully capable and respected organisation and we are at a level where we are about to start our first collective bargaining process,” he adds.
“The organisation has shifted from being seen as a players’ union to having a strategic role in Pacific island rugby and contributing to the big table and helping to shape the future of Super Rugby.”
It has been a hugely productive period for Aayden and the PRP team, who have persisted behind the scenes, working on some major developments for Pacific rugby and the game in general.
Playing a role in securing support from World Rugby and New Zealand Rugby for two Pasifika teams – Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika – to join a revamped Super Rugby competition from next year is obviously a major milestone for PRP, Aayden says.
However, there have been many smaller successes along the way, which benefit players and Pacific rugby in the long term.
“While the Pasifika Super Rugby teams are a highlight, so is seeing the Pacific sevens teams winning big matches, and watching the likes of Manu Samoa, Ikale Tahi and the Flying Fijians take on top level teams and sticking it to them – such as when Fiji beat France 21-14, in Paris in 2018.
“Knowing what happens behind the scenes and the lack of the resources these nations contend with, and then seeing them perform well is really satisfying – as is supporting the players and making sure everything is in place so they can play.”
While at PRP, Aayden, Hale and the team have been instrumental in creating positive change in Pacific rugby governance, such as convincing Tonga Rugby Union (TRU) to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with PRP, outlining how the players’ association can assist TRU and its players based offshore, and how TRU can assist PRP to achieve its aims in the region.
Working collaboratively, PRP has helped to implement and improve personal development programmes throughout the world, as well as secure support from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) to enhance the women’s programme in Fiji.
When asked what he will take away from the organisation to help him going forward, Aayden says diplomacy, and the power of maintaining good working relationships.
So much of what he has achieved at PRP can be put down to effective relationships, including the relationship he has with PRP’s founding members Hale, Mapusua Seilala Mapusua, and Deacon Manu.
“I have such huge gratitude towards these guys…you know, sometimes people asked why a Māori boy was leading a Pacific island organisation – not often but it did come up occasionally.
“I always saw it as a positive – I could approach the unions from a neutral perspective, which worked for me…but whenever I needed advice or guidance, particularly around Pacific cultural values, Hale, Seilala and Deacon were there to offer it.
“I am very grateful.”
So, the million-dollar question is what is next for the 39-year-old?
For now, Aayden says he will be taking a much-need break and work on some of his own projects before deciding about his future.
“One thing I do know is that whatever I do next, I want to pour my efforts and energy into meaningful work which makes a difference and has an impact.”
Meanwhile, Hale says knowing Aayden is just a phone call away, particularly during this time of transition, is reassuring.
“We are really blessed and appreciative to have Aayden close by in the next couple of weeks with so much going on in the Super Rugby space, an MoU with Fiji and going through the collective bargaining process,” he says.
“On behalf of myself, the PRP board and staff, and the Pacific island rugby community we would like to thank Aayden for everything he has done for the game and PRP, and we wish him well for the future.”
By Michelle Curran