Rugby World Cup 2011
Oz back NZ in RWC cost row
John O'Neill (File)
Wellington - Australia on Thursday backed New Zealand's call for changes to international rugby financing, but stopped short of following the All Blacks' threat to boycott the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive John O'Neill described commercial arrangements surrounding the Rugby World Cup as "the elephant in the room", saying they forced major unions into the red every four years.
O'Neill said his New Zealand counterpart Steve Tew's criticisms of how the International Rugby Board (IRB) handled commercial issues arising from the tournament were "real, substantial and, importantly, not new".
"As Steve Tew correctly pointed out, the current economic model is unsustainable and unacceptable," he said.
"We look to the IRB to resolve these issues urgently because, as a national union, the ARU is unable to continue making these significant losses every four years."
Tew said this week that current arrangements penalised major unions because Test schedules were curtailed in World Cup years - costing TV revenues and gate receipts - and teams could not promote their sponsors at the tournament.
He said competing at the 2011 World Cup had put a NZ$13 million dent in the New Zealand Rugby Union's coffers and raised the prospect of pulling the All Blacks from the 2015 tournament if no solution was found.
O'Neill did not go that far, but said the IRB needed to recognise that the major unions, or tier one nations, underpinned the commercial success of the Rugby World Cup.
He said the ARU revenues were down A$16 million this year because of the World Cup and the combined figure for all tier one nations was 48 million pounds ($75 million).
"(This) impacts on ARU's ability to promote and develop the game in our country and our region," he said, adding that he hoped an IRB review scheduled for completion in May next year would fix the problem.
O'Neill said the World Cup should be rescheduled so it did not clash with the southern hemisphere's Tri-Nations and Super Rugby competitions or the Six Nations and European Cup in the north.
International Rugby Players' Association executive director Rob Nichol also backed Tew's criticism but said the IRB and national unions needed to consult with players about any changes.
"They risk coming up with their model in May 2012 and the players saying, 'no we don't like that'," he told the Dominion Post newspaper.
Nichol said he submitted a revenue-sharing proposal to the IRB before the tournament but the sport's governing body rejected it and threatened a player lock-out unless his organisation dropped the scheme.
All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu has described the possibility of a New Zealand boycott in 2015 as "devastating" but assistant coach Steve Hansen said Thursday that the team would support Tew if it came to the crunch.
"If that was what was deemed to be the right thing to help the game, then that's what you do," he told reporters.
The New Zealand Herald lambasted Tew for "throwing a shroud of negativity" over the tournament and dismissed the idea the All Blacks would not travel to England in 2015.
"That proposition is absurd, and so too is the timing and much of the tenor of Mr Tew's remarks," it said in an editorial.
Writing on Fairfax's stuff.co.nz news website, rugby columnist Marc Hinton said Tew had initiated a "high-stakes game of bluff" with the IRB and may have painted himself into a corner if he did not get what he wanted.
"If the IRB refuses to accede to his demands, or at least make major concessions, Tew looks weak and toothless if he does not make good on his threat," Hinton wrote.