Southern heavyweights shake IRB money tree

22:25, Oct 11 2011
Steve Tew
REVENUE: NZRU boss Steve Tew said the New Zealand Rugby Benevolent Fund would pay outstanding February wages to Otago's contracted ITM Cup players.

The New Zealand Rugby Union and their Sanzar partners have secured a major coup by persuading International Rugby Board heavyweights to look closely at changing the commercial model to the 2015 World Cup.

It is understood that it took a threat from the New Zealand, Australian and South African unions to pull the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks from the next tournament to force a change at an often fiery meeting in Auckland on Monday.

The three Sanzar unions also threatened to walk out of the meeting unless financial ramifications for the next World Cup were discussed, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported.

There was further success with the IRB also agreeing to look into relaxing its hugely restrictive sponsorship deals for the next tournament.

The meeting, attended by chairmen and chief executives from tier-one nations, agreed a deal that may well have saved the 2015 tournament, to be played in England, from boycott by the three southern hemisphere heavyweights who all said they would not be able to afford to take part under the current financial formula.

New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have already publicly stated that playing in the current World Cup has cost them a combined $NZ50 million in lost income.

The meeting ended in agreement to review the way money from World Cups is distributed as well as relaxing restrictions on teams' sponsors.

The big breakthrough was an acceptance that the loss of income incurred by every tier-one country during World Cup years should be made good.

"We probably achieved as much as we could hoped to at the meeting," New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said.

"There was already a commitment to review the timing, distribution model and commercial rules around Rugby World Cup.

"What this meeting did was reinforce how important that work is. And how you can't make any decisions about any part of that in isolation - that it all has to be done together.

"I think there's a greater recognition that if there are consequences of the timing (of the World Cup) then they need to be factored into the distribution model. That's the work that will now be done.

"There's also a recognition that we have to get it locked in place urgently. The fact we can get it done before the end of the year is fantastic."

The IRB will present detailed proposals to its executive council, which includes Tew, before Christmas.

One of the key agenda points on the meeting was the timing of the 2015 event which is set for September and October. 

The Sanzar nations wanted it pushed back a further month due to the Tri-Nations which will feature Argentina from next year with host union England wanting a quick decision as it has to book football stadiums in the UK.

The point sparked the financial debate after NZ, Australia and South Africa said they would walk out of the meeting unless the agenda was widened to included the money issue.

The three unions also pointed out that the IRB has more than $240m in reserves and can afford to relax its restrictive commercial view.

The IRB executive has consistently stated that given it makes 98 per cent of its income from World Cups, any increased income for the top countries would come at the expense of funds set aside for developing nations. Sanzar's counter was that rugby union's newfound Olympic status offers another funding line beyond the World Cup.

Scheduling of 2015 cup matches involving tier-two and tier-three countries was also discussed. It was agreed that 20 teams will continue to take part and that top sides will share midweek duties, meaning the likes of Georgia, Tonga and Romania will not have to play after just a few days' rest.

The Sanzar nations have been trying for eight years to change the World Cup financial distribution model but by refusing to agree the timing of the 2015 World Cup, knowing that the (England) RFU is desperate for a decision to be made so it can start planning for the event, they finally won the day.