Thursday, 21 July 2011

Déjà vu (all over again)

Leone Nakarawa
In naming its squad for Friday's one-off test against the All Blacks the Fiji Rugby union has managed to avoid, or at least put off, a major diplomatic incident.

Lock Leone Nakarawa, a private in the Fijian Army and a member of Fiji's 35-man World Cup training squad does not feature in the squad for the Dunedin test, which is just as well, as he is barred from entering New Zealand owing to his military connection.

The New Zealand government has refused visas to members of the Fiji military and their families since Commodore Frank Bainimarama seized power in a military coup in 2006.

While in some ways it is admirable that the New Zealand government is taking a stance against what is in effect a military dictatorship, the issue is unlikely to go away before the Rugby World Cup and, ultimately, something has to give. Either the New Zealand government relents or Fiji are forced to send an arguably weaker squad or, in the worst case scenario, pull out of the tournament.

The intervention of the IRB has, predictably enough, achieved nothing - although secretary general Mike Millar continues to suggest that Fiji will take part and will have a "competitive" team, whatever that means.

It's not as if this is new to Fiji. Back in 1987 at the inaugural Rugby World Cup the participation of the Fijian team was in doubt until the very last minute. A military coup led by Army Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka, a former test rugby player, had taken place shortly before Fiji's first match against Argentina and the Fiji team arrived in New Zealand only after the new regime had given the tournament its blessing at the 11th hour.

In 1987 Western Samoa were put on alert to take Fiji's place if the worst should happen. This time it would be Uruguay.

Let's hope common sense prevails and it doesn't come to that.

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