International Rugby
IRB vows to investigate 'blackmail' claims
ESPN Staff
November 9, 2012
Bernard Lapasset, head of the French rugby union federation, holds a press conference prior to the rugby union World Cup third place final match France vs. Argentina at the Parc des Princes in Paris on October 19,  2007
IRB chairman Bernard Lapsset has vowed to investigate the latest claims © Getty Images

International Rugby Board chairman Bernard Lapasset has promised to investigate the latest claims that players from rugby's poorer countries have been paid by their clubs to make themselves unavailable for international duty.

Under IRB regulations, players must be released from their clubs for the designated international windows if selected but it has long been suspected that some of Europe's leading clubs have previously paid players from the Pacific Islands to ignore call-ups and remain available for domestic duty.

Former Racing Metro assistant coach Simon Mannix went on record earlier this week to reveal that certain Fijian players at the club opted out of the 2011 Rugby World Cup after being offered financial incentives to do so. The Top 14 giants have dismissed the claim but former Fiji international Nicky Little alleges that players have been 'blackmailed' for many seasons.

Associated Press reports that Sireli Bobo and Jone Qovu both pulled out of the Fiji squad citing personal reasons, while Josh Matavesi withdrew citing club commitments. The Fiji Rugby Union has since confirmed it has officially complained to Racing Metro over Qovu's unavailability for its current European tour. Qovu refused selection claiming to be injured, but later played a club match.

Lapasset has acknowledged the issues and has revealed it will be addressed at a meeting of IRB officials later this year. "We'll see if we have to change the rule," he told AFP. "If we have to start investigations, we'll do so. It'll be with complete transparency and in the strict application of the rules."

The IRB's regulations forbid any policy of offering disincentives, with Regulation 9 reading: "No Union, Association, Rugby Body or Club whether by contract, conduct or otherwise may inhibit, prevent, discourage, disincentivise or render unavailable any Player from selection, attendance and appearance in a National Representative Team or National Squad session."

And the sport's governing body has issued a further statement adding that they would act if they found any club in breach. "Player release is central to the integrity and economic sustainability of the international Game and the IRB continues to be proactively committed to assisting Unions with player release issues when requested by them to do so under Regulation 9.

"The Regulation is designed to deliver a fair, equitable and proportionate framework for facilitating the release of the world's best players for international duty within designated windows without impediment irrespective of country of employment. This Regulation goes to the very core of supporting the integrity of the international Game.

"The IRB takes any breach of the Regulation very seriously and acts on release issues where it is formally requested to do so by a Union or if it is presented with credible evidence provided by a Union or recognised Rugby body that would allow it to pursue its own enquiry. In respect of the former, the IRB has collaborated with Unions over a long period to successfully facilitate the release of players for international duty and will continue to do so.

"Unions also have a clear obligation to do everything possible to uphold the Regulation within their territory or they risk significant sanctions.

"The IRB is currently monitoring player release issues during the November 2012 window and the matter will be the subject of discussion at the IRB November 2012 meetings in Dublin.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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