25 Jun 2021

NZ Rugby still negotiating with Ineos, but welcomes debate

6:28 pm on 25 June 2021

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) says it welcomes the level of debate over whether to accept sponsorship from chemical company Ineos, saying it shows the game is relevant to Kiwis.

NZR has been in the firing line from Greenpeace, politicians and academics over a proposed deal to have Ineos as a shorts sponsor for the All Blacks, with environmental groups concerned that aligning with Ineos could harm New Zealand's clean, green image.

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson told journalists today there was no deal "at this time", but RNZ understands talks are continuing.

Robinson said the scrutiny the organisation received over the deal was taken on board. The breadth of the backlash proved NZR was "relevant", he said.

"We do a lot of due diligence on all of our potential partnerships, the reality is there is no deal with Ineos at this time.

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson.

NZR's Mark Robinson. Photo: Photosport

"We put a lot of work into this as we have done with the likes of Silver Lake and a lot of our partners, so we were very mindful of some of that feedback but we're pretty comfortable with the work to do date that's been done by our teams."

An increased examination of NZR's off-field workings were welcomed by Robinson.

"We should be challenged on things we are looking to do, especially as we go through a significant change process, it's fair to be questioned and called out on things and have to take the time to explain and where possible, and necessary, educate.

"If we've learnt nothing else in the last little while it's that scrutiny around our game is significant.

"Every time we are involved in anything we are really conscious of the fact that our standards have to be really high, we have to accept that we'll be in a position where there may be feedback, positive and potentially negative, and that relates to everything be it new entrants to competitions, women's competitions, there'll always be strong views around that from the country and in a lot of ways we are really heartened by that."

One aspect of NZR's operation that caught the attention of fans, former players and current stars was the plan to make a deal with American investment firm Silver Lake.

A resolution to the stand-off between NZR and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association over the private equity deal or the players' association's alternative suggestion of an Initial Public Offering is still a way off.

NZR and the players association continue negotiations over two days next week and Robinson said the issues that had separated the two parties for the past five months remain but he wouldn't elaborate on the details of the differences.

"We're not putting a time frame on it," Robinson said of the outcome between the two groups.

"The RPA have been clear around what they want to discuss in relation to Silver Lake and they've asked us to give some feedback on the IPO and that's what we'll do."

Super Rugby in 2022 was set to return to the original 12-team format and include two new teams from the Pacific Islands - Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika - but on Friday Robinson couldn't confirm that the Pacific teams would be given the go-ahead for the next competition.

"Things are continuing to track well with these teams but we will take right until the end of the month to confirm decisions around those two teams.

"I think they're making good progress, the key thing is the business model and the capital structure behind them and we will be getting more detail around that by the end of next week.

"A huge amount of work has gone on by individuals and groups behind both of those teams and they've made really good progress in a short amount of time, we've applied a lot of resource to this ourselves, we are really committed to it but there are a whole lot of things that aren't completely straight forward at the moment."

Something else that isn't clear cut is the communication between New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia over the finer details of the Super Rugby competition.

Moana Pasifika logo

Photo: Photosport

The format the competition, the readiness of the two Pacific Island sides and the split of competition rights and revenue has irked Rugby Australia according to reports out of Australia.

But Robinson said the Australians misgivings were news to him.

He thought the two organisations were on the same page and that details has been hashed out and agreed on.

"We're just a bit perplexed really," Robinson said.

"We don't sort of understand what the issues or concerns are so we'll continue talking in accordance with the pre-planned meetings we already have in store [with Rugby Australia]."

Robinson said the details of the Super Rugby competition would be announced by the end of the month.