OPINION: Banned means banned. It doesn't mean banned unless you can persuade the International Rugby Board to plead your case.
Foreign Minister Murray McCully got it exactly right when he told the newly elected chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union, Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, that the travel sanctions imposed on the Fijian military and members of their families would apply during the Rugby World Cup.
Mr McCully got it equally right when he delivered the same message to IRB chief executive Mike Miller, who has been pleading Fiji's case in Wellington this week.
The IRB is understandably focused on the interests of its members – of whom the Fiji Rugby Union is one – and on staging the best possible spectacle. All rugby fans would like to see a full-strength Fijian side compete in the tournament, particularly if its forwards decide to jump and scrummage and maul instead of waiting for their teammates to do the hard work. However, New Zealand's sovereignty is a matter for New Zealand, not a Dublin-based official of a sporting organisation.
The Government is obliged to admit the Fijian team into the country to participate in the tournament. It is not obliged to admit individual players whose working lives are devoted to keeping an illegal regime in power. Nor is it obliged to admit Fiji's land forces commander simply because interim prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama has engineered his elevation to the head of the Fiji Rugby Union.
If Fiji wants to include military personnel in its team, if Commodore Bainimarama and his cronies want to attend the tournament as spectators, the solution is in their hands. Honour the promise Commodore Bainimarama made in 2007 to schedule free and fair elections and put in place concrete steps to hold them.
Sabre rattling and muttered threats of a withdrawal from the tournament might play well at Suva's Queen Elizabeth Barracks where, if runaway colonel Tevita Mara is to be believed, Commodore Bainimarama personally beat opponents, including three female pro-democracy protesters, in the dark days immediately after his December 2006 coup.
However, from this distance, the suggestion from the the Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee, a body that has absolutely nothing to do with the administration of rugby, that Fiji might boycott the tournament, sounds like empty bluster.
Fiji's dictator needs the Rugby World Cup far more than the tournament needs the Fijian team. Failure to compete would be just one more piece of evidence that Commodore Bainimarama's regime is isolating Fijians from their friends and neighbours and consigning them to a bleak future.
Considering the popularity of rugby in Fiji, it might just be the final straw.
In praise of ... getting involved
The closest that most Wellingtonians will come to the All Blacks during the Rugby World Cup is their television sets. Tickets are scarce and prices are eye-watering.
Taking two kids to the All Blacks pool match against Canada on October 2 will cost mum and dad between $292 and $610. But the All Blacks are not the only team in town.
Eleven teams are playing pool matches at the Westpac Stadium, renamed the Wellington Regional Stadium for the duration of the tournament, and prices for most, but not all, of the other games are cheaper than the All Blacks games.
In addition, the visiting sides will be training throughout the city and region. The lead-up to the cup has been overshadowed by the tragedies at Pike River and in Christchurch.
The cup offers people an opportunity to turn their minds to happier matters. Battling to deal with the loss of Christchurch as a venue, Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden has urged Kiwis to get behind the tournament. It is sound advice.
How often do Wellingtonians get the chance to watch the Argentinians, Scots, Welsh, Americans, Tongans and French play in their city? Will New Zealand be able to host the cup again? This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Make the most of it.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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