While the IRB is confident that the strongest Fiji side will feature at the World Cup, New Zealand’s Prime Minister is adamant that bans on Fiji military members will not be lifted.
New Zealand current prohibits members of Fiji military or their families from visiting the country, which presents a problem for the national rugby side, many of whom are involved in the military.
The IRB has said that it hopes New Zealand would relax the ban for the duration of the World Cup, but at this stage the New Zealand government aren’t budging. The Fiji Rugby Union has responded by threatening to boycott the tournament altogether.
Prime Minister John Key and Rugby World Cup minister Murray McCully both said on Wednesday that New Zealand had no intention of using the World Cup as an excuse to relax sanctions which it has applied against Fiji since a 2006 military coup.
‘We haven’t changed our stance, which is that if someone is associated with the regime they will be subject to travel sanctions,’ Key said.
McCully added that he had already told the new chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union, Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga, that ‘banned meant banned’. New Zealand has no intention of relaxing sanctions against Fiji until the government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama took steps to restore democracy.
IRB chief executive Mike Miller, however, holds hope that some diplomacy will see the issue resolved before September.
‘If people can talk quietly behind the scenes then often things which some people think can’t be resolved, can be resolved.’ Miller said. ‘But talking about it in public really doesn’t help.
‘I am confident that Fiji will come to Rugby World Cup, I am confident that all the matches will take place in New Zealand, and I am confident that Fiji will acquit themselves very well. They’ve been playing very well and they will have a very good team in New Zealand.’