The NZRU governance structures and constitution have been panned

A damning New Zealand Rugby review has declared the union “not fit for purpose in the modern era” and recommended urgent change.

The review was released just over a week from the All Blacks’ opening Rugby World Cup clash against hosts France in Paris. It suggests the governance structures and constitution of NZRU need a major shake-up while also calling into question whether it can sustain the current level of professional players and provincial unions.

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An extract from the report read: “We question not only whether New Zealand can support so many fully professional rugby players but whether it can afford the overhead costs of 26 different Provincial Unions.

“The NPC competition can only continue in its present form as a fully professional competition with extensive NZR financial support but Super Rugby clubs, supposedly commercial entities, are all struggling to make money as well.

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“The member Unions are financially dependent on NZR. We would expect the national body to use this point of leverage to resolve these kinds of problems. We were told by many, however, that the NZR board and NZR staff are constantly mindful of upsetting the member Unions and the threat of member Unions calling a special general meeting to remove the NZR board is ever present.”

A four-person panel consisting of panel chair David Pilkington, ex-All Blacks captain Graham Mourie and experienced directors Whaimutu Dewes and Anne Urlwin, recommended two key changes. Namely the creation of an independent process to appoint a board to govern the organisation and the introduction of a Stakeholder Council to ensure their voices are heard and interests represented while also reducing the power of provincial unions, who still retain a role due to “the continuing importance and relevance of the separate identities”.

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The panel chose not to criticise individuals but did say: “In recent years, even allowing for the impact of the global pandemic, NZR has suffered a series of highly publicised missteps and, with those, a loss of wider public confidence and respect.

“Given honest self-reflection, NZR’s member Unions might understand and accept that in being critical of the board they are being implicitly critical of themselves. The board they have is an outcome of the constitutional arrangements they have developed over time.”

The findings of the review are not binding but NZ Rugby chair Dame Patsy Reddy insisted the board was committed to “considering all recommendations”.

New Zealand Rugby review: What they said after

In a statement, she said: “In December last year the NZR Board commissioned an independent review of our constitution and governance structure, with the aim of ensuring that rugby is best placed for the future.

“On behalf of the NZR Board, I want to thank the panel for their extensive and detailed report and acknowledge all those who have contributed to the review through various consultation opportunities.

“NZR received the review today and the Board will now take time to digest it fully. We are committed to considering all recommendations. We will consult with our member unions and stakeholders on their views and next steps to deliver the best possible governance framework for rugby in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

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The 26 chairs of the provincial unions, in their own statement, added: “We are here to serve our rugby communities and the thousands of participants across the country who will demand that we put the game first,” it said. “Any decisions that ultimately need to be made will be done so through that lens.

“This is a hugely important, deeply researched piece of work and, with that in mind, we are going to carefully consider the findings as a collective.Until then, we feel it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further.”

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