Why our Pacific rugby brothers and sisters broke with New Zealand and Sanzaar in World Rugby’s showdown vote. Jim Kayes reports
Fiji, Samoa and Japan didn’t vote against Agustin Pichot when picking Sir Bill Beaumont to remain as chairman of World Rugby.
They voted against Sanzaar, and with some justification.
The Pacific Island nations have, for far too long, been paid lip service by the southern hemisphere behemoths.
South Africa are yet to play in Samoa, Tonga or Fiji and have hardly been queuing up to play them at home either.
They hosted Tonga in Cape Town in 1997 and Fiji in Pretoria a year earlier, and have played Samoa five times in South Africa.
Australia are little better, having played Fiji three times in Fiji but not since 1984. The Wallabies have tackled Samoa and Tonga five and four times respectively in Australia, but never in the Islands.
And the All Blacks’ record is just as abject.
While they are happy to enjoy the fruits of immigration and school scholarships, their presence in the Islands has been largely left to talent scouts and a few Super Rugby games.
The 2015 test in Apia was the All Blacks’ first time in Samoa, they have never played in Tonga and haven’t made it to Fiji since 1984.
And New Zealand Rugby wonders why Samoa and Fiji voted against their wishes?
“Fiji in particular have been frustrated,” New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey said.
“They wanted to be involved in the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby for some time and have felt frustration at not being able to achieve that – there are multiple reasons why that is the case, not least being commercial viability.”
But just how viable was it?
It costs about $10 million to run a Super Rugby team and the teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, plus Argentina’s Jaguares, get about $4 million each via the broadcast payments.
Fiji were offered none of that but were told they had to provide what one official with deep knowledge of the conversations said was “a significant amount in escrow; it was in the millions”.
They also had to guarantee revenue.
“If you’re asking a new team to come into a competition you have to support it,” the official said. “Especially when there’s no real commercial base.”
No New Zealand franchise would have survived, given the financial conditions imposed on the Fiji offer.
Japan’s Sunwolves were treated with similar contempt, as they were also given no revenue.
This is despite Sanzaar enjoying a 100 percent increase in its broadcast deal for the five years to the end of this year.
None of that extra money was carved out to help new teams like a Fiji-based side get established in Super Rugby.
So it should be no surprise to New Zealand Rugby that Samoa, Fiji and Japan ignored Sanzaar’s call to support Pichot, who would have defeated Beaumont had he secured those crucial votes.
Impey said Sanzaar voted against Beaumont because “there’s been no progress for a couple of years [in terms of] revenue sharing, eligibility or the rules of the game”.
That must have had Japan, Samoa and Fiji rolling their eyes.
Impey also said “Covid produces a chance for a total reset” which might have those same countries raising an eyebrow in anticipation.
Will it mean the All Blacks play in Suva, Apia and Tokyo for reasons other than those that are absolutely self serving?
They played Japan and Australia in Tokyo and Yokohama in 2018 purely as a warm up for the World Cup and to make money, and last year smashed a hapless Tonga in Hamilton as a tune-up for the tournament itself.
They went to Apia in 2015, also as a warm up game, this time for the Rugby Championship and brought Fiji to Dunedin in 2011 for tackling practice ahead of their test against South Africa a week later.
In 2017, Samoa were again rolled out as the All Blacks needed a game before the first test against the British and Irish Lions.
It’s patronising and those countries have clearly had enough. But have New Zealand Rugby been listening?
“We need to include Fiji, Samoa and Japan in our sphere,” Impey now says. “We’ve got to make sure we’re all in the same tent as well. They exercised their democratic right to vote for whoever they wanted to – they voted for Bill.
“We’ve got to put this election behind us, because it did divide the rugby world. It’s up to leaders to bring it together.
“Now is the time we have to move forward. If we, too, are true to our principles around driving the game in Asia and the Pacific then we’ve got to respond as well.”
Sadly, the Pacific nations, in particular, have heard it before. Which is why they voted against Sanzaar, when they didn’t vote for Pichot.