O’Neill adds weight to World cup boycott threat

Australian Rugby Boss John O’Neill has added weight to the potential Rugby World Cup boycott by saying that the negative financial consequences of taking part in the Rugby World Cup are a “serious” matter the International Rugby Board must tackle.

O’Neill was speaking ahead of the Wallabies quarter-final against the Springboks here on Sunday, also warned the tournament could not realistically be called a World Cup if one of the SANZAR nations – South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – did not participate.

The SANZAR nations were, according to O’Neill, unified in their stance against the IRB, which, he added, needed to undergo a management review.

“Our differences within our own (SANZAR) joint venture, we tend to sort them out,” O’Neill said.

“But the issues on the table at the moment relating to the financial consquences of participating in a World Cup, acutely felt by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, has brought us together in a very unified way.

“It’s not frivolous, it’s a serious matter.”

O’Neill added: “We hoped to get the World Cup out the way and in a quieter moment, sit down with the IRB and look at the timing of future World Cups, the distribution policy – how much funding the IRB distributes, particularly to the major unions, and finally the commercial rules, about what you can and can’t do during a World Cup.

“Let’s get away from the hurly-burly of the tournament, sit down and resolve those issues together and not be caught in the divide and conquer, north (northern hemisphere) versus south, which I think is the objective of some people.”

O’Neill did not repeat his New Zealand counterpart Steve Tew’s threat to boycott the 2015 World Cup in England should the financial arrangements in place by then not meet with his organisation’s approval.

“We’ll double-cross that bridge when we get to it,” O’Neill joked when asked if there was a chance Australia could pull out.

“I’m hopeful of a sensible resolution.

“Threatening to boycott a World Cup is not our style, but equally, the notion that any team is replaceable is nonsensical,” he added in a deliberate echo of the comment made by IRB chief executive Mike Miller who, when asked if a World Cup “needed” New Zealand, replied: “Everyone is replaceable.”

However, O’Neill said: “A World Cup without the All Blacks, Wallabies or Springboks, I’m not sure you’d be calling a World Cup. But that’s not a path we want to go down.

“We think the resolutions are there, with a bit of give and take and it’s about the IRB governing the game globally, not just about hemispheres.”

O’Neill said the ARU would lose AUS$16 million (US$15.6 million) from taking part in this World Cup, with the amount for the three SANZAR nations hitting 38 million (US$37.1 million).

“If you go from seven Tests in a normal domestic season down to two, (you lose) broadcasters, sponsors and gate revenue,” he said. “It’s very easily calculated and supported.”

And O’Neill had a parting shot at the Dublin-based IRB, saying: “We’re 16 years into the professional era and a lot of things have happened. Largely very good things: Super rugby, Heineken (European) Cup, Six Nations, expanded Four Nations next year, World Cups every four years.

“But everyone’s got to move with the times and I think it’s timely to have a serious look at the governance and management structures of the IRB.”


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