Provincial unions hit back at Players Association amid governance issues

Provincial unions (PUs) say the Players’ Association (NZRPA) is trying to bully them into accepting governance reforms proposed by New Zealand Rugby (NZR).

The Players’ Association is threatening to split from NZR and create a new body to police the professional game if changes recommended by an independent review last year are not adopted at a special general meeting next week.

NZR will hold a special general meeting on May 30 to vote on one of two proposals, the other of which (proposal one) is supported by the NZRPA and recommends adopting in full the conclusions of last year’s Pilkington Report.

A group of provincial unions have put forward their own plan (Proposal Two), which the Players’ Association, led by Rob Nichol, strongly opposes.

“If Proposal Two (presented by some provincial unions) is adopted, or the status quo prevails, professional players will no longer transfer to the NZRU, through a collective bargaining agreement, the right to govern the professional game,” the NZRPA in a letter sent to the media.

Nichol told RNZ the PU model would mean “the provincial unions will control through different means the actual process of appointing the board and therefore the board”.

However, Wellington Rugby president Russell Poole said claims that the PUs’ proposal did not align with the principles of the independent report were not true.

“We have openly embraced the ideal of an independently appointed and selected board. So anything that says otherwise is absolutely false and that is the worst part of yesterday’s NZRPA document, it contains so many lies, so many things that are factually incorrect.

“There is no difference between Proposition One and Proposition Two in terms of how people are chosen and the process they go through.

“The difference is that in Proposition Two, the provincial unions have a line that says three NZR board members at any one time must have spent some time on a provincial rugby board. Given the fact that one of the functions of “Having the NZR board run the game on behalf of the 150,000 participants, and that’s just the players, not the infrastructure and other people dealing with that, I don’t think that’s unfair.”

Nichol and the NZRPA believe the game in this country is struggling and told RNZ the provincial unions’ proposal was unacceptable.

“We all accept the report, we all accept the conclusions that the governance model was not fit for purpose. To get to this stage and then turn around and say ‘no, we just want to maintain the status quo’, we cannot afford of To do that.

“The game is in trouble, it needs support, it needs help, it needs expertise and we need an independent board.”

Poole said the PUs had attempted to speak to the NZRPA about their concerns.

“We have worked very hard to negotiate in good faith with everyone. We have spoken at length with the NZR board, the Māori rugby board and with Pasifika. We have tried to engage with the NZRPA but it was not successful.

“It is a shame that the NZRPA has chosen what can be described as an incendiary position for a constitutional and democratic vote to be held on the 30th.”

Poole described the Players’ Association’s threat to split from NZR if governance reforms do not go ahead as unnecessary and unhelpful.

“Irresponsible is one word that comes to mind. Unnecessary is another. It smacks of ‘if I don’t get my way, I’ll take my toys, my bat and my ball and go somewhere else.’ It’s a word that comes to mind.” unnecessary reaction and, in our opinion, an overreaction.

New Zealand Rugby’s board, led by chairwoman Dame Patsy Reddy, is committed to Proposal One, and Reddy previously said she would resign if the plan was not accepted at SGM.

Although he is not sure, Poole believes the UP proposal will prove more popular at next week’s SGM.

“Early indications are that Proposition Two has enough support. But Proposition One goes up first and there will be some unions that will choose to vote yes/yes. They will vote yes on Proposition One and if it doesn’t pass, they will pass it.” They will vote yes on Proposition Two because they don’t want the status quo.

“So, quietly confident, but many politicians have said it before an election and they didn’t get in.”

Meanwhile, the New Zealand rugby board issued a statement in response to the NZRPA letter.

“We remain committed to working closely with all stakeholders to reach a resolution and will give effect to the outcome that NZR voting members choose at SGM,” the statement said.

“Importantly, it is the board’s firm intention that any outcome on governance reform will not impact Teams in Black, competitions and commercial relationships. NZR’s operational activities will continue as normal.”

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