22 May 2024

'Lies': Provincial unions hit back at Players' Association in governance stoush

4:21 pm on 22 May 2024
No caption

New Zealand Rugby offices in Wellington. Photo: Dom Thomas

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

The Players' Association is threatening to split from NZR and set up a new body to control the professional game if changes recommended by an independent review last year aren't adopted at a special general meeting next week.

NZR is holding an SGM on 30 May to vote in one of two proposals, the other of which (proposal one) is backed by the NZRPA and recommends adopting the findings of last year's Pilkington Report in full.

A group of provincial unions have put forward their own plan (proposal two), which the Players' Association, headed by Rob Nichol, are vehemently against.

"Should Proposal Two [put forward by some provincial unions] be adopted, or the status quo prevail, the professional players will no longer pass to NZRU, via a collective employment agreement, the right to govern the professional game," NZRPA said in a letter released to media.

NZRPA chief executive Rob Nichol

NZRPA boss Rob Nichol. Photo: Photosport

Nichol told RNZ the PUs model would mean "the provincial unions will control via different means the actual process to appoint the board and therefore the board".

However, Wellington Rugby chair Russell Poole said claims that the PUs' proposal doesn't align with the principles of the independent report weren't true.

"We have openly taken on board the ideal of an independently selected, appointed board. So anything that says something else is absolutely untrue and that's the worst part of the NZRPA document yesterday, it has so many lies in it, so many things that are factually incorrect.

"There is no difference between proposal one and proposal two on how people are elected and the process that they go through.

"The difference is that in proposal two, the provincial unions have a line in there that says that three members on the NZR board at any given time must have spent some time on a provincial rugby board. Given the fact that one of the roles of that NZR board is to look after the game on behalf of the 150,000 participants, and that's just the players, not the infrastructure and other people that go around that, I don't think that's unfair."

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

"We all accepted the report, we all accepted the findings 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 keep the status quo', we can't afford to do that.

"The game's in trouble, it needs support, it needs help, it needs expertise and we need an independent board."

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

"We've worked really hard to negotiate in good faith with everybody. We've spoken at length with the NZR board, the Māori rugby board and with Pasifika. We've attempted to engage with the NZRPA, but that wasn't successful.

"It's just a shame that the NZRPA has picked what can be described as an inflammatory position for such a constitutional, democratic vote that's due on the 30th."

New Zealand Rugby Board Chair Dame Patsy Reddy during the Media conference to announce Allan Bunting as the new Black Ferns Director of Rugby at New Zealand Rugby, Auckland, New Zealand on Friday 10 February 2023. Mandatory credit: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

New Zealand Rugby Board Chair Dame Patsy Reddy during the Media conference to announce Allan Bunting as the new Black Ferns Director of Rugby at New Zealand Rugby, Auckland, New Zealand on Friday 10 February 2023. Mandatory credit: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Poole described the Players' Association's threat to split with NZR if governance reforms don't go ahead as needless and unhelpful.

"Irresponsible is a word that comes to mind. Unnecessary is another one. It smacks of 'if I don't get

my own way I'm going to take my toys, my bat and my ball and go somewhere else'. It's an unnecessary reaction and in our view an overaction."

The New Zealand Rugby board, led by chair Dame Patsy Reddy, are committed to proposal one, with Reddy earlier saying she would resign if the plan wasn't accepted at the SGM.

While not certain, Poole believes the PUs' proposal will prove more popular at next week's SGM.

"Early indications are that proposal two has sufficient support. But proposal one goes up first and there will be some unions that will choose to vote yes/yes. They'll vote yes for proposal one and if that doesn't get through they'll vote yes for proposal two because they don't want the status quo.

"So quietly confident, but many a politician has said that leading up to an election and didn't get in."

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Rugby board has released 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's voting members choose at the SGM," the statement said.

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

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.