Sport: Fiji, Samoa and Tonga get seats on World Rugby Council
Pacific countries will get individual seats on an expanded World Rugby Council for the first time from May next year.
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are to get seats on an expanded World Rugby Council in what's been called the biggest positive step in Pacific rugby ever.
The Council has approved wide-ranging reform of its governance structures, including increased representation for tier two unions and regional areas.
The President and Chair of the Tonga Rugby Union, Epeli Taione, told Vinnie Wylie it's been a long time coming.
EPELI TAIONE: It is by far the biggest positive step we have in Pacific rugby ever. Yes it's been a lot of work and a lot of good rugby administrators in the past that have put their effort and time into this and I'm quite thankful that World Rugby finally come around and it was well-supported in the Council, especially the European home unions. It's a huge deal for the Pacific and one that we are looking forward to make sure that we utilise it to the best of our abilities. I can't wait- happy news for us.
VINNIE WYLIE: Why do you think it's taken until now for other countries to say, 'yes everyone should be a part of it - that makes sense?'
ET: I think it's just the timing of it. It's been a huge turnout for this years World Cup - the biggest rugby audience we have - and look at the Samoa v Japan game: 25 million people from Japan alone stayed up until three o'clock in the morning and watched that game. It's a strong indication of the contribution that the tier two countries have done over the years and I think the decision was just based on what the game desired for a long time - if we want to go global this is how we're going to go.
VW: Issues that Pacific Island countries have raised for a number of years: disparity in funding and finance; players being attracted overseas and management of that and development of the game; getting more test matches against top tier countries - is this finally a big chance to start to get those views heard more regularly?
ET: Yes, come May things will change and change for good obviously. There will be new changes in the share of funding to the Pacific Islands - it will be huge. It's a long time coming - the best thing that we can do now is make sure we have the best people in place to continue running rugby in the region.
VW: What are those possibilities funding-wise?
ET: There's no clear indication of what they're going to do with it. Obviously there's always going to be criteria for smaller nations to meet - it's just a sense of [World Rugby] protecting of their funding. What I do know at the moment [is] there will be an increase on funding for the Pacific.
VW: There are some stipulations as well in order to get these extra seats: the members have got demonstrate good governance practices, have five years of unqualified audited accounts, five years of AGM minutes, these sorts of things. Are you confident Tonga and the other Pacific nations will tick all of those boxes?
ET: Without a shadow of a doubt we meet those [criteria]. It comes with the territory. We know there will be a probationary period of up to 18 months to show that but I'm quite confident the three islands will get through that. The two votes for the region is obviously to be held by the Chairman of Oceania Rugby, which is Harry [Schuster from Samoa] at the moment. There will be an election on that come May so either way I'm super-excited 30, 40, 50 years of trying to get to where we are now is finally here. The best thing is for us to make sure we play by the book and we make sure we meet the criteria. It's not hard, it's just a good governance practice and make sure that everyone will stay afloat and financially in place. We're more than confident that we meet those.
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