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- Sponsored : Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken a "wait and see" stance to the prospect of funding a Pacific team in Super Rugby.
But she's warned the 'Pacific Force' proposal wasn't something the Government usually invested in.
On Tuesday, Newshub revealed an $80,000 (US$55,000) feasibility study, conducted by New Zealand Rugby and funded by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), into establishing a franchise based in Suva, Fiji, but playing 'home' games in Samoa, Tonga, Auckland and Sydney.
The team could be part of Super Rugby within two seasons, and has been widely supported by NZR chairman Brent Impey, new board member and former Manu Samoa coach Sir Michael Jones, and the Pacific Players Association.
But Ardern was cautious about endorsing the report, which was initiated by the National Government under former Rugby World Cup, Sport & Recreation, and Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully.
"This was new to me," Ardern admitted to The AM Show. "It was a feasibility project that [McCully] put in place to see if it was something that would viable and the impact it would have.
"I've asked some question now about what the result of that was, so it's a little bit of a 'wait and see' for me, because I haven't seen all the outcomes of it yet.
"It certainly wouldn't be something, right of the bat, that I would have thought would fulfil our criteria."
Ardern admitted the Government did invest in sport around the Pacific, as part of an ongoing aid programme.
"Particularly in places like Tonga and Samoa... we support rugby and netball. I've visited some of the programmes, particularly for young people, because there is value from a health perspective and for youth development.
"This is different and that's why I really want to look at it to make sure we get the outcomes we expect from aid."
The report suggests that promoting a Pacific rugby franchise would also help combat China's spreading influence in the area.
Ardern said the Government usually targeted projects that would reduce costs across the region in areas like climate change and renewable energy sources.
"We have to focus on the money and support we give to improve our relationship, our role and pick up our bit of responsibility," said Ardern.
"Those are the kinds of projects that, in the past, we've prioritised, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. I want to see what the outcome of that work was, but it's a bit more unusual than the kinds of things we usually invest in."
Meanwhile, New Zealand Rugby has confirmed the government has funded a feasibility study on the establishment of a Pacific Islands Super Rugby team.
"Given this report commissioned by MFAT has been shared with us as a confidential document, we're not at liberty to discuss it," says NZR Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass.
A number of Super Rugby games have been played in the Pacific the last few seasons.
The Chiefs first played the Crusaders in Suva in 2016 and both teams returns last year. The Highlanders and Chiefs will square off in Suva next month.
While the Blues played the Reds in Apia last year, two years after the All Blacks played their first ever test in Samoa.
Super Rugby faces a possible change from its 18-team format from 2020 when the current broadcasting deal ends. There were reports last week that South African teams were looking at the option of leaving Super Rugby and joining the Pro14 tournament in Europe.
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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