Rugby World Cup 2011
O'Neill: Sanzar alliance tight
ESPNscrum Staff
October 7, 2011
Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill addresses the media during the Wallabies team announcement, Wellington, New Zealand, October 7, 2011
Australian chief executive John O'Neill said the Sanzar alliance strong after the IRB failed to address their World Cup financial concerns © Getty Images

Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill has stressed that the Sanzar alliance with New Zealand and South Africa is tighter than ever due to the International Rugby Board's refusal to fully acknowledge their concerns about the financial impact of the Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew sparked a row last month by suggesting that the All Blacks may boycott the next World Cup unless the financial model is changed to take into account the loss of revenue stemming from the reduced Test match schedule in tournament years. IRB chief executive Mike Miller responded to the request by insisting that New Zealand could be replaced - an idea that O'Neill has branded "nonsensical''.

''Threatening to boycott a World Cup is not our style, but equally the notion that any team is replaceable is nonsensical,'' O'Neill said. "A World Cup without the All Blacks, the Wallabies or Springboks, I'm not sure you would be calling it a World Cup.''

Seated next to Australia coach Robbie Deans at the Wallabies' latest team announcement, O'Neill claimed some parties were attempting to turn the debate over the financial model of the World Cup into a battle between the northern and southern hemispheres rather than the real concerns.

"That has brought us [Sanzar] together in a very unified way. If change to the agenda is not agreed, the meeting will only last five minutes. The Rugby Football Union is anxious to get the timing sorted out because it wants to get on with hiring stadia, but another month will not make any difference. We are, after all, talking about the future of the World Cup. We are not being frivolous: this is a very serious matter which needs to be addressed quickly," he said.

"We have to look at the way the unions run the IRB and whether we have the right administration. Should union representatives be assisted by independent directors? The game has been professional for 16 years, but much of the game's structure is a legacy of the amateur era. We need to move with the times. Is it right, for example, that the foundation unions all have two votes on the IRB but 42 countries under the Asia umbrella have one between them, just like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga?

"We have to think and act on a global, not a hemisphere, basis. There is no point in wasting our time on Monday talking about timing if we ignore issues which are making unions worry about whether they will be able to afford to take part in 2015."

"Let's get away from the hurly-burly of the tournament and sit down and resolve those issues together and not get caught in a divide and conquer, north versus south debate, which I think is the objective of some people.''

O'Neill then went onto repeat New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew's assertion that the World Cup was becoming too costly for Sanzar partners with the latest tournament costing the ARU a reported A$16m in lost revenue due to a reduced Test schedule. He stressed that Miller's comment that Sanzar's losses did not account for money distributed by the IRB in the four years between tournaments was wrong.

"I saw what Mike Miller said, 'the Sanzar countries haven't taken into account the money we give them during the four years between World Cups' - well that $16 million is net of what we get from the IRB. It's a very easily calculated and supported figure and the Sanzar countries together it's $38 million.''

Asked if Australia would consider pulling out of the next World Cup if things did not change, O'Neill said: ''There's a great saying I picked up from a South African and that was 'we'll double-cross that bridge when we get to it.''' O'Neill also backed calls by International Rugby Players Association boss Rob Nichol for the IRB to revamp its governance to become more competitive in the global marketplace.

''Democracy means different things to different people. As we do with our own organisation we are constantly trying to improve governance and management. If I apply that to the IRB I think, and it's not a criticism, but a piece of common sense... everyone has to move with the times. It's time we had a serious look at the management and governance structures of the IRB.''

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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