Fiji may miss sevens after IRB halts funding

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 08:46 13/01/2014

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Fiji's colourful team is an uncertain starter for next month's Wellington Sevens after the International Rugby Board (IRB) confirmed it had suspended its annual grant of £1.1 million (NZ$2.2 million) to the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU).

The union is effectively controlled by military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama and the IRB said "that it is to suspend all direct financial support to the FRU with immediate effect until the union adopts key financial reporting, administration and governance reforms".

In a statement the FRU blames its woes on earlier administrations of the game in Fiji and says it is cleaning it up.

"Please note that all these issues were inherited by this current FRU board and the board expects to clear up all these issues by end of May 2014."

The union said to "alleviate the financial crisis" they are fundraising and hope next week to name a new sponsor.

Fiji media say this will be cellphone company Digicel but only as a portion of the IRB grant.

The FRU statement makes no reference to the plight of the country's seven side which is due to play at the Wellington Sevens on February 7-8.

Team coach, former England coach Ben Ryan, has not been paid for three months and revealed last week that he had to pay his own way to attend tournaments involving Fiji.

On Friday the FRU said they had approved Ryan's $300,000 salary, saying it had got funding for it from the government's Fiji Sports Commission. The commission's chief executive is Litiana Loabuka, Bainimarama's daughter.

Bainimarama, who seized power in a coup in 2006, has no formal position on the FRU but the crisis with the IRB has been bought on by his repeated interference with it.

He has vetoed board appointments and in one case has put one of his family members into one of the key sports funding bodies to control who gets the money.

Bainimarama has promised democracy-restoring elections later this year and has said he will be a candidate.

The drama could have severe implications on his ambitions as rugby sevens is virtually the only sport Fiji has on the world stage.

It has devoted considerable resources to the annual world rugby sevens competition - winning this year's opening tournament - and sees sevens as its only hope of getting an Olympic medal.

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- The Dominion Post

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