The All Blacks' chances of competing in the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Britain are "slim" according to the chief executive of New Zealand's Rugby Union (NZRU). Steve Tew says commercial rules must change for there to be any possibility of his side taking part in the tournament.
His comments provide yet more illustration of the complex relationship between sport and the sporting business, because it's the commercial arrangements, rather than anything that's happening on the pitch, that are the focus of what Tew says.
He reckons the NZRU will lose almost £7m as a result of competing in the current World Cup. That's because incoming tours are halted in a World Cup year, and also because national associations are not allowed to have any association with their sponsors during the tournament.
International Rugby BoardThat's because of potential conflicts with the tournament's own commercial backers. The International Rugby Board uses tournament sponsorship funds to invest in the worldwide development of the game, and especially to promote the development of the game outside the top ten nations.
"But frankly, the propsects of us going to England in 2015 under the current model are very slim. We cannot continue to sign on for an event that costs us so much money." The IRB said that the current investment programme added up to £150m between 2009 and 2012, with 50% going to tier-one nations.
Key fault lineIt's a key fault line in modern sport. For a healthy game, the sport must be promoted and developed. That costs money. The money is generated by the established, successful sides. They want to keep as much of it as possible. And they certainly don't want to lose money.
Solving the issue depends on the balance of benefits. If the sport is not healthy, eventually even the most successful sides will suffer, and sponsors won't put as much money in. But every side will inevitably prioritise its own health before that of the sport.
Successfully resolving the issue depends on the existence of a strong governing body for the sport, not one dominated by the individual interests of each side. What Tew has done is push to adjust the balance. Other nations will have taken note, and the prospect of a World Cup without the major nations will concentrate minds.