“Secret plan” for Pacific Islands team revealed
A secret plan to create a combined Pacific Islands rugby team with players from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga has been revealed.
According to a report on Newshub, the plan involves the creation of the team, to be called the Pacific Force, with the New Zealand Government funding an NZ$80,000 feasibility study.
The following is what was reported by Newshub today:
Newshub has learned both New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Government have worked on the proposal, meaning a united 'Pacific Force' is now close to reality.
The feasibility study was carried out by Jeremy Curragh, a respected rugby commercial operative, and cost the taxpayer $80,000.
Under the plan, the team would be based in Suva, as Fiji is the biggest country. It would also play some 'home' games in Samoa, Tonga, Auckland and Sydney.
The team would be set up as an independent franchise and enter the competition in 2021 - in two seasons' time.
It's got backing from the very top of NZR; chairman Brent Impey and new board member Sir Michael Jones.
Chariman of the Pacific Players Association Tevita Hale Nai Tu'uhoko, known as Hale T-Pole, was briefed last week.
"For so long now that we've been in the back seat with Super Rugby, and now it's about time that we were in charge," he says.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) says it funded the study to support Pacific communities with a view to encouraging investment to fund a commercially viable professional rugby team.
"Sport is an integral part of the cultures of many Pacific Islands countries, and the New Zealand aid programme, administered by MFAT, recognises it can be an effective vehicle for development in the region."
The spokesperson says MFAT has not committed to supporting start-up costs or operating capital for any possible future team.
But there's an opponent that doesn't even play the game: China.
Part of the plan is that rugby can be a diplomatic force to counter China's influence in the Pacific.
Much like Pasifika TV, which delivers New Zealand television to the islands, the idea is that rugby will help keep hearts and minds away from China, which is saturating the region with money to obtain influence.
The plan has gone to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga for consideration, and it will likely also be discussed at a SANZAR board meeting in London in the coming days.
One of the big questions will be how it is funded, and whether the New Zealand Government will put money towards it.