PI players mulling RWC boycott over world league exclusion

LONDON — Members of a Pacific Island players' support group in Europe are considering boycotting the Rugby World Cup in response to plans for a new world league that excludes Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.

All three teams have qualified for the Rugby World Cup in Japan in September.

Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, which claims a membership of 600 mainly Pacific Island-heritage players throughout the European leagues, says senior test players have proposed that members make themselves unavailable for the Rugby World Cup.

"A boycott is a legitimate player protest at World Rugby's reported plans to exclude the Pacific for as long as 12 seasons from a new TV-driven world league of the top 12 test teams," PRPW said in a statement on Friday.

PRPW head Dan Leo, the former Samoa lock, also called on the three Pacific national unions "to break out of their position of silence and submission and support their players."

Leo said they have the backing of Pacific Rugby Players, the players' union with 400 male and female members, "to fend off this world-be threat to the survival of Pacific Island rugby."

He said both organizations also support International Rugby Players, the global players' union, which criticized the world league proposal this week for being elitist and disregarding players' welfare.

World Rugby's reported plan features the 10 teams across the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, plus Japan and the United States, both of whom were below Fiji in the world rankings but had far larger commercial markets. The plan set off an outcry against the exclusion of the Pacific Island sides and Georgia.

The Pacific Islands' impact on world rugby dwarfs their influence in boardrooms at the game's highest levels. At the last Rugby World Cup in 2015 in England, almost a quarter of all players had Pacific Island heritage. They also feature in six of the world's top eight sides: New Zealand, Ireland, Wales, England, Australia, and France.

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