International Rugby Board suspends Fiji funding

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 14:30 12/01/2014
Ben Ryan
Getty Images
TOP MAN: A triumphant Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan after Fiji won in Dubai in November.

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Fiji's sevens rugby side are uncertain starters for next month's Wellington Sevens after the International Rugby Board confirmed over the weekend it had suspended an annual grant of $2.2 million to the Fiji Rugby Union.

The FRU is effectively controlled by military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama and the IRB said yesterday it was "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 today the FRU blamed its woes on earlier administrators of the game in Fiji and said it was cleaning the union 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 statement read.

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

Fijian media said this would be cell phone company Digicel but their money would only make up a portion of the IRB grant.

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

The team's coach, Englishman Ben Ryan, has not been paid for three months and revealed last week he had to pay his own way to tournaments involving Fiji around the world.

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

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

He has vetoed board appointments and has put a family member into one of the key sports funding bodies to control who gets funding.

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

It is believed the current situation could harm his political ambitions as rugby sevens is one of the few sports Fiji competes in on a world stage with the shortened code seen as the nation's only hope of winning an Olympic medal.

Bainimarama's interference in the FRU goes back to 2011 when he removed its board and installed a military commander to run it. 

The FRU was then required to follow the regime's orders to avail of F$3.3million (NZ$2.1 million) of funding from the state to participate in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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