THE Western Bulldogs Australian rules football team is increasingly pessimistic the Australian Government will overturn an order banning 19-year-old Fijian recruit Inoke Ratu from entering Australia.
Ratu was one of two Fijians signed by the Melbourne club under a scholarship program last October but was denied a visa to visit Australia to train with the Bulldogs because of his father’s links to the country’s military, which overthrew Laisenia Qarase’s Government in 2006.
The club had hoped the Australian Government would reconsider the sanctions and allow Ratu a visa later this year.
But Fiji President Ratu Josefa Iloilo’s decision to scrap the country’s Constitution, sack the Judiciary and reappoint Voreqe Bainimarama as prime minister has not done Ratu’s chances any favours.
The Bulldogs’ recruitment and football partnership manager, Simon Dalrymple, denied the club’s plans to take Ratu to Australia were already doomed.
“Our optimism isn’t increasing with the news but we’re not giving up as such,” he said.
“We’ve got a two-year agreement with the boy, so legally — and morally — we’d stick with that. We’ll speak to the Government and the people that have been lobbying the Government on our behalf, but the latest developments aren’t a positive, put it that way.
“I’m meeting with the AFL Oceania representative on Friday to get the latest update from him and then we’ll know a bit more about (it).”
Australian rules football is the most popular spectator sport in Australia.
Dalrymple will fly to Fiji next week with scholarship program benefactor Shaun Bassett to meet with Ratu and Solomon Loki, 17, who was allowed to enter Australia last year and is not subject to visa restrictions.
“We’ll be … doing a bit of work with them,” Dalrymple said. “They do three skills sessions a week and three strength sessions a week. We’ve got a person in Fiji who supervises their program and the AFL are also looking to start a competition in Fiji in the next month, so they’ll play in that, which will certainly help their development in the game.”
He said they still had plenty to learn about the game. “That’s where playing regular football in Fiji’s going to be a big boost to their development.”
Australia’s foreign affairs department was not available to comment yesterday on the status of Ratu’s visa application.