SYDNEY (Reuters) – World Rugby vice-chairman Agustin Pichot is to look into the sport’s international eligibility rules as part of a wide-ranging report into the sustainability of the game in the Pacific island nations.
The former Argentina international came out strongly against the existing rules, which allow a player to represent a country if they have lived there for three years, when he was nominated to his post last month.
Admitting his views would be controversial, the 41-year-old former Pumas captain and rugby Hall of Famer said he thought the period was too short.
“There are special cases where players moved when they were ten or twelve years old,” he said.
“But just moving to a country, being taken from an Academy, like they are doing in Tonga, and put into play, say, in an Ireland shirt, I’m against it. I think it is not right.”
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have suffered from talent drain for many years and most of the top tier northern hemisphere nations as well as Australia and New Zealand regularly field players born in the islands.
Pichot was part of a World Rugby committee that met with the Fiji, Samoa and Tonga unions in Nadji, Fiji on Tuesday and has been asked to lead a working party to make recommendations to the governing body in October.
The group will also look at future high performance investment levels, the conduct of agents, player movement regulations, future competition pathways, player release regulations and the conduct of non-union rugby academies.
World Rugby also reaffirmed its commitment to Pacific islands rugby and said it would be supporting the high performance and development programs of the three unions to tune of the four million pounds ($5.67 million) in 2016.
“The Pacific Islands hold a special place in rugby’s rich history and indeed rugby’s future,” former Scotland international John Jeffrey, who led the World Rugby delegation, said in an Oceania Rugby news release.
“These positive and highly constructive meetings gave the committee a unique opportunity to consider the opportunities and challenges faced by the islands and to drive a process that will sit alongside ongoing governance reforms to deliver a blueprint for a prosperous game for each of the unions.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O’Brien)