Pacific players suggest World Cup boycott over league exclusion


Paris (AFP)

World Rugby's proposed 'League of Nations' drew more criticism on Friday when one players' organisation said it is even discussing a boycott of the 2019 World Cup.

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW), an organisation of 600 mostly Europe-based professional players, issued a statement saying a boycott, which could include players of Pacific Island origin playing for other nations, would be a "legitimate player protest."

The organisation is unhappy because the reported new league plan excludes the Pacific from what the London-based PRPW called a "TV-driven world league of the top 12 Test teams".

Initial reports suggested Fiji, along with Japan, would be included, but when the New Zealand Herald reported World Rugby's plans on Thursday, Fiji had been replaced by the United States.

The Herald estimated that the competition would be worth between 10 million and 14 million New Zealand dollars ($6.8 million to $9.5 million) to each participating nation.

"The players don't want it, they're overplayed now, so it's not going to happen," former All Blacks coach Graham Henry told New Zealand television earlier on Friday.

The plan ruled out promotion and relegation for at least 10 seasons, meaning Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, as well as other rising nations such as Georgia, would have no chance to win a place later.

"This is exactly what happened when they created Super Rugby," said former Samoa lock forward Daniel Leo, who heads the which represents players of Pacific Island heritage at all levels of the European leagues.

- 'Pacific Rugby Disaster 2.0' -

"Their watchword was ? let's take their players but whatever happens, keep the islands out."

"This will be Pacific Rugby Disaster 2.0."

Leo says it was "abundantly clear that World Rugby has failed the genuine rugby fan."

"Now is the time for the voice of Pacific rugby to be heard through our players, God's gift to our islands, and in a way that might head off this calamity," said Leo.

Some officials in the Tier 1 rugby nations have voiced unease.

Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle said on Friday that, while the proposal would be good for Australia financially, "the competition model must provide opportunities for the Pacific Islands nations and other developing nations to continue to grow and compete with tier one nations."

New Zealand players' association chief executive Rob Nicol expressed opposition to the exclusion of the Pacific nations in a radio interview.

"We're not going to let a commercial land grab happen here at the expense of player welfare and the integrity of the international game," Nicol said.

Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have all qualified for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

"If what I'm hearing is true then R.I.P Pacific Island Rugby... money is the winner at the end of the day I guess," tweeted Montpellier's Fijian back Nemani Nadolo.

On Thursday, World Rugby's ambitious Argentinian vice-president Agustin Pichot insiste he wanted to see two 12-team divisions created so that top nations who lack financial muscle in the sport such as Fiji would not lose out.

"I will never support a league that blocks the way for emerging nations," former Pumas star Pichot said.

"My position and my proposals have always been the same since the first day: 12 + 12 (two divisions of 12 teams each) with promotion-relegation and with enough rest period for the players."