Schism in New Zealand rugby looms

Henry

New Zealand rugby will hold an important vote on Tuesday to determine who runs the game, a move that could mean some of the country’s top players could break away from the governing body if they don’t get their way.

Months of underlying tension will be brought to a head at the special general meeting in the capital Wellington and those involved will vote for one of two proposals on a new leadership structure for the national governing body.

The union and the trade union of professional players support a proposal that could result in far-reaching changes, but is mainly based on the nine boards being elected independently.

The issue was a key point outlined in a scathing independent review of the game’s governance last year.

The 26 influential provincial unions from New Zealand’s amateur strongholds put their own proposal on the table. They also believe that change to the top management is necessary, but want to retain their current power to decide on three places in the board of nine.

The players’ association further stoked the flames by threatening to break away from New Zealand rugby and form their own rebel body to run professional rugby if the provincial unions didn’t get their way.

If none of the proposals gets the required 90 votes, a stalemate is reached and the dispute simply continues.

John Kirwan, a highly respected former All Black player, is concerned about the infighting that rugby fans may end up choosing the rabbit hole.

“The saddest thing for me is that people don’t care anymore because they’re just sick of it,” Kirwan said.

“If people stop caring, our sport is really in trouble.”

However, Pete Winchester, chairman of the Canterbury Rugby Union, warned that the imminent threat of professional players was likely to strengthen the provinces’ attitude.

“It is a complicated situation. We believe it will be good to have three people with experience in provincial rugby.”

Richie McCaw, who fueled the All Blacks to two Rugby World Cup victories, called on all role players to keep the bigger picture in mind.

“I want to ask those who make the decision not only to think about themselves, but to rise above it and decide what is the best thing for New Zealand rugby in the long term,” McCaw told the New Zealand Herald said.