Sanctions threatening Fiji’s world cup chances

The Fiji Rugby Union says travel sanctions imposed by New Zealand since a 2006 military coup in the Pacific nation will prevent it naming its best team for the World Cup later this year.

Union chairman, Fiji land forces commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, has called on the International Rugby Board to intervene and pressure New Zealand to drop the sanctions which prevent members of the Fiji military from visiting New Zealand.

Tikoitoga was due to meet Wednesday with IRB Oceania general manager William Glenwright to discuss Fiji’s concerns. He said media reports Fiji would boycott the New Zealand leg of the IRB World Sevens circuit if the sanctions were not removed were incorrect.

The IRB has already called on New Zealand to loosen sanctions to allow members of Commodore Frank Bainimarama’s military regime to attend the World Cup.

Tikoitoga said if potential members of Fiji’s World Cup squad had to be dropped because of their links to the military, it would amount to political interference in Fiji’s selection process. He said interference by one nation in the selections of another should be prohibited by the IRB.

“New Zealand is saying they will not allow military personnel into the Rugby World Cup but we have not heard anything from the IRB on where they stand with this,” Tikoitoga told Fiji media on Wednesday.

“I am praying that the selection of the Flying Fijians team will not be restricted because of a player’s occupation.”

Tikoitoga was one of several delegates with close ties to the Bainimarama regime elected to the board of the Fiji Rugby Union at its recent annual general meeting. The meeting tossed out the former board, which had angered the Fiji government, and installed a new board which included several senior army and police officers.

New Zealand foreign minister Murray McCully has discussed New Zealand’s sanctions with senior IRB officials but has not yet given any sign New Zealand will relax its stand for the World Cup.

Bainimarama seized power in Fiji in a December 2006 coup, suspending the nation’s constitution, imposing severe media censorship and delaying democratic elections until at least 2014.

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