Fiji Rugby Union elect new governing board

The Fiji Rugby Union has elected a new governing board, ending a constitutional crisis which briefly threatened its exclusion from international rugby.

However, the composition of the new nine-member board, elected at Saturday’s annual general meeting, points to an increased influence in Fijian rugby of the military regime which seized power in a 2006 coup.

Several of the new board members have links to the police and military, suggesting the interim government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama will wield greater control over the organization which administers Fiji’s national sport.

Fiji faced a constitutional crisis last year when the Bainimarama government demanded the resignation of the union’s board and executive members over alleged mismanagement of a Rugby World Cup fundraising lottery.

An investigation by the Fiji Commerce Commission claimed to have found discrepancies between ticket sales and receipts and alleged some lottery funds had been used to fund overseas trips by directors.

All board members offered to resign but the International Rugby Board insisted the election of new board members could only take place at the annual general meeting.

The IRB warned any violation of the union’s constitution could result in Fiji losing its status as a member in good standing, effectively barring Fiji from international rugby.

Saturday’s annual meeting and election met the union’s constitutional requirements.

Those elected on Saturday include Col. Mosese Tikoitoga, the commander of Fiji’s land forces, Col. Joeli Cawaki, police commander Salacieli Naivaliwasa, former cabinet minister Ilaitia Tuisesi and Rupeni Nacewa, a former private secretary to president Josefa Iloilo.

Also elected were lawyer Joeli Baledrokadroka as legal director, accountant Napolioni Batimala as financial director and businessman Cama Maimuria as a member of the board of trustees.

Tuisese was named union chairman and member of Parliament Isakeli Tasere was named president.

Six members were elected by delegates from Fiji’s provincial rugby union and three by trustees.

The IRB has taken a carefully conciliatory line with Fiji’s military regime. During a recent visit to New Zealand, chief executive Mike Miller hoped New Zealand would relax travel sanctions against regime members to allow key figures, including Bainimarama, to attend World Cup matches later this year.

New Zealand has imposed travel sanctions against Fiji since the 2006 coup which prohibits members of the regime and the Fiji military from visiting or traveling through New Zealand.

The sanctions reflect New Zealand’s concern with the actions of the Bainimarama regime which has abrogated Fiji’s constitution, suspended elections until at least 2014, dismissed judges and imposed controls on local media.

Several board members elected on Saturday would be affected by the travel sanctions.

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