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 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 $NZ13 million ($A10.4 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 $A16 million this year because of the World Cup and the combined figure for all tier-one nations was STG48 million ($A77 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 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 on 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.