The head the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) said his organization doesn’t have enough money to send a team to this year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, according to local media reports.
Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga said a report presented to the union’s board by team manager Pio Bosco Tikoisuva showed that 5 million Fijian dollars (US$2.8 million) was needed to properly prepare a team for the tournament starting in September.
Tikoitoga said the Fiji team had no major sponsor and the union was still in discussions with the government over its promised World Cup funding package of 3 million Fijian dollars.
He said a subcommittee has been formed to focus on the funding issue, including the search for sponsorship.
The government approved the release of the first 400,000 Fijian dollars of the promised World Cup fund last month, but it is not clear whether the union had received the money or if the remainder will be paid.
The government had used its offer of financial assistance to pressure the union to sack its previous board, which had been in dispute with the country’s leaders over its management of a World Cup lottery.
All members of the previous board were voted out at the union’s annual general meeting last month and a new board was installed, headed by Tikoitoga.
Fiji plans to hold its first trial for World Cup team places on June 3. It will then name an initial 50-man squad the following day.
Tikoisuva told the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation on Friday that the country has a greater depth of players than in the past and could potentially take its best team ever to the World Cup.
Fiji, which reached the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup in France, previously had trouble gaining access to its top players, particularly its best forwards playing for clubs in Europe or Japan. Tikoisuva said it seems likely that all of Fiji’s overseas players will be available this year and there would be considerable competition for spots on the squad.
Complicating matters, however, is the fact that New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said his government will not bow to pressure from the International Rugby Board to relax travel sanctions against Fiji during the World Cup.
After Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power in the island nation in a 2006 coup, New Zealand imposed measures that prevent Fijian citizens with links to the military regime from entering the country.
The sanctions would likely affect several Fiji rugby players.