Second side in line to miss RWC party

WORLD CUP: The William Webb Ellis Cup, the prize for those competing at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
WORLD CUP: The William Webb Ellis Cup, the prize for those competing at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

A second country at this year's Rugby World Cup tournament has fallen into deep administrative trouble, with the International Rugby Board forced to take over the national union in Namibia.

The IRB, which remains in "discussions" with the Fijian Rugby Union over a dispute that threatens that country's participation in the cup, acted swiftly on Friday as corruption allegations swirled around Namibia, including claims players had not been paid.

But despite acknowledging it is now "fully running" the Namibia Rugby Union, the IRB said there was no suggestion Namibia's place in this year's cup, to be held in New Zealand is in jeopardy.

In an ironic twist, Namibia is currently scheduled to meet Fiji on the opening Saturday of the tournament.

IRB head of development and performance Mark Egan has begun a month-long investigation into the union, which has incurred debts exceeding $N4 million ($NZ717,000).

Namibian media last year reported accusations made by national team players against the NRU for failing to pay them in full after the IRB Nations Cup held in Romania.

It is unclear if the issue has been resolved.

In December last year, the NRU's chief executive, Sakkie Mouton, was suspended after organisational irregularities.

Namibia national coach Johan Diergaardt said he still expected to travel to New Zealand for the world cup.

"The preparations are on track. Some of the players are a bit uncertain, but I don't think it will affect them," Diergaardt said.

Egan, who has placed a leading South African rugby administrator, Steph Nel, in temporary charge of the NRU, also expressed confidence the nation's world cup plans would not be impacted.

"It's critical that the NRU is well-organised," he said. "We are asking a small union with limited resources to compete against the best teams in the world.

"The NRU does have some financial problems and there will be careful monitoring of their financial resources.

"The IRB has additional funding and we will help, but our funds are limited and we hope that the Namibian government and private sector will also assist their national team in this important year."

This will be Namibia's fourth world cup campaign and only the first was problem-free.

In 2003 players claimed that they did not receive money promised them, while management enjoyed luxuries.

In 2007 there was serious embarrassment when the NRU president, Dirk Conradie, along with his whole executive, was sent home from the tournament because of questionable procedures in the sale of world cup tickets.

It is claimed that "millions of rands" were paid into a trust account managed by Conradie's legal firm.

The amount in question was said to be $500,000.

Soon afterwards, "obeying the command of the Heavenly Father", Conradie apologised to the Namibian people, claiming that the money had been refunded "to all concerned".

The current allegations centre on large sums of money disappearing from the union and inappropriate use of sponsor funds.

Elsewhere, IRB executives spent several days in Fiji last week trying to persuade the military government and the Fiji Rugby Union to respect and act in accordance with the union's constitution.

Last week, the Sunday Star-Times reported that military leader Voreqe Bainimarama and his brother-in-law Frank Kean were attempting to take over the FRU in order to win VIP status at the Rugby World Cup.

Reacting to the report, New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully angrily denied Bainimarama could come. Bainimarama, who last year said publicly he wanted to lead the Fiji side to the world cup, then claimed he really did not want to go.

"I don't like going to New Zealand and that is the last thing that I would think about," he told FijiLive website.

The FRU remains in crisis however, having lost money on a lottery intended to fund the team to New Zealand.

The government has said the union will get a $NZ2-million grant if the FRU executive and board goes and is replaced with one that meets state approval.

Sunday Star Times