Fireworks over vote for new Super franchise

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:06 18/07/2014
Steve Tew
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DEBATE WELCOMED: New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew is open to hearing the Singapore and Japan bids.

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A decision on Super Rugby's Asian expansion could require mediation, with Australia and South Africa expected to butt heads over whether Singapore or Japan gains inclusion.

Earlier this month, Fairfax Media revealed expressions of interest from both, and Sanzar confirmed yesterday that Singapore and Japan submitted the only bids for the 18th team to join an Argentinian side and South Africa's Southern Kings from 2016.

Now those bids have been lodged with Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters, both will have their respective business cases, broadcast revenue potential and competitiveness assessed before a final decision is reached. Additional teams will need around $10 million per year to cover travel, wages and other expenses.

But robust debate is expected before Singapore or Japan is selected by late October, with an initial agreement between the three Sanzar nations seemingly unlikely.

Fairfax Media understands Australia has flagged support for Japan during Sanzar discussions, backing up former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones.

Now in charge of Japan, Jones recently moved to protect his adopted interests by labelling Singapore's proposal a "joke" and saying Sanzar would "lose all credibility" in selecting the region.

Australia's support for Japan is also thought to be based on the country's comparatively strong rugby history, established infrastructure, local competition and World Cup hosting rights in 2019.

By contrast, South Africa are firmly in Singapore's camp due to travel concerns. An 11-hour flight to Singapore appeals to them far more than the 22 hours it takes to get to Japan. Given they produce the lion's share of Sanzar's broadcast revenue, there are already fears South Africa will attempt to bully its coalition partners into agreement.

With Australia likely to opt for Japan, New Zealand's position remains unclear.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said yesterday the governing body had deliberately taken an open stance until the tender process was complete, but declined to comment further.

Singapore's bid is based around the Asia Pacific Dragons, a team owned by entrepreneur Eric Series, who also sponsors New Zealand rugby through his company Sealegs.

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Series' ties to the Pacific Islands could change New Zealand's neutral position, but if Australia holds firm, mediation will be needed.

The potential standoff could lead to a repeat of the arbitration required when the Melbourne Rebels gained inclusion over the Port Elizabeth-based Kings.

Two representatives from each of Sanzar's three member unions sit on Super Rugby's board, but votes are cast as countries, not individuals. Peters will not cast a vote. Crucially, only a 3-0 unanimous vote will be good enough to gain immediate sign-off. Otherwise, mediation will again be necessary to settle the dispute.

In 2009, former All Blacks captain David Kirk led a mediation panel that swung the vote in favour of the Rebels, on the basis that revenue would have dropped up to US$20 million (NZ$23m) over the five-year broadcast agreement.

Sanzar has not appointed a mediator and still hopes to reach a unanimous agreement.

- Stuff

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