All Blacks may skip 2015 RWC
Wellington - The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) threatened to pull the All Blacks from the 2015 Rugby World Cup over a financial row with the sport's governing body on Wednesday - a move hooker Keven Mealamu said would be "devastating" for players.
NZRU chief Steve Tew said the unprecedented step would be "the very last port of call" but could not be ruled out, as current arrangements meant his organisation posted a loss every time the quadrennial tournament was held.
"That's obviously a last resort and our style is to be consultative, collaborative and to try to work with everybody to find a solution," Tew told Radio New Zealand when asked if the All Blacks could skip the next World Cup.
Tew said International Rugby Board (IRB) rules penalised major unions in World Cup years because their regular Test schedules were curtailed and teams were not allowed to promote their sponsors during the tournament.
He said this meant that competing at the 2011 World Cup was costing the NZRU more than NZ$13 million ($10.3 million), casting a shadow over New Zealand's participation in the 2015 tournament in England.
"It's putting pressure on the balance sheet and frankly, in the current environment, we just can't afford to run a World Cup-year loss, nor do we think it's necessary." he said.
Earlier, Tew told Britain's Guardian newspaper: "The prospects of us going to England in 2015 under the current model are very slim. We cannot continue to sign on for an event that costs us so much money."
Mealamu admitted that, if the threat was carried out, it was difficult to imagine a World Cup without the All Blacks and said New Zealand's withdrawal would not be well received in the rugby-mad nation.
"The country wouldn't been too happy about it, the same as the players... it'd be devastating for us as rugby players to know we couldn't make it to the next World Cup," he told reporters.
"It'd be devastating for our country and our rugby players here as well.
Tew told Radio NZ that the NZRU had been pushing the IRB for changes to the commercial arrangements for eight years and had gone public to try to ensure the issue was finalised by 2015.
"Now is not a bad time to make sure the issue is raised and considered, to give ourselves enough time to find a solution without having to go to any drastic measures," he said.
"We have the support of most of the major unions and a review is not only necessary but now, in our view, quite urgent."
Tew said the bulk of the NZRU's NZ$13 million shortfall came from television revenues and gate receipts lost because the annual Tri-Nations competition was shortened in World Cup years so it did not clash with the tournament.
He said other major unions faced similar problems, estimating their combined losses at 35-40 million pounds ($55-63 million).
Tew said solutions the IRB could consider were changing the World Cup date, to allow a full Tri-Nations schedule, or paying more money to participating unions.
He also said the IRB's World Cup sponsorship rules, designed to avoid any clash between team sponsors and the IRB's own corporate supporters, should be relaxed.
"In football, the FIFA model, there is room for both sets of sponsors to get some coverage during the World Cup period and we think that's something we should be looking at very seriously," he said.
A Rugby World Cup Ltd. spokesperson said the commercial model that applied to the tournament was being reviewed .
"We are committed to working in collaboration with our unions to ensure that the tournament continues to balance the strategic needs of our unions with the ability to provide the financial platform for the development of (the) sport," he said.
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