Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

NZR chair threatens resignation over Governance standoff

Liam Napier,
Publish Date
Tue, 26 Mar 2024, 4:19pm
New Zealand Rugby Board chair Dame Patsy Reddy. Photo / Photosport
New Zealand Rugby Board chair Dame Patsy Reddy. Photo / Photosport

NZR chair threatens resignation over Governance standoff

Liam Napier,
Publish Date
Tue, 26 Mar 2024, 4:19pm

New Zealand Rugby chair Dame Patsy Reddy has threatened to resign as tensions reach boiling point over the seven-month governance standoff with the provincial unions.

Last Friday, during a post-board briefing with the provincial union chairs and chief executives, the former governor-general took a hardline stance with those who hold the keys to achieving governance change.

Reddy said she would not support alternative reform proposals that compromised the quest to usher through the non-binding Pilkington report recommendations. Those stated NZ Rugby’s constitution and governance was not fit for purpose and stressed the need for a nine-person independent board.

The Herald understands that Reddy, not for the first time, told the provincial unions that if they continue to push alternative proposals that seek to maintain at least three New Zealand Rugby board members with at least two years’ experience on a provincial board, she could not support it and would, therefore, resign from her post.

At that same meeting it is understood there was disagreement when Reddy told the provincial unions the NZ Rugby board had unanimous support for its proposal for a new independent board.

NZ Rugby board member Ajit Balasingham spoke up to correct Reddy, who then clarified that it was unanimously agreed the NZ Rugby proposal should be presented to the unions, not that it had unanimous support.

Some provincial unions believe this instance suggests there is division among the NZ Rugby board.

New Zealand Rugby Board chair Dame Patsy Reddy. Photo / Photosport
New Zealand Rugby Board chair Dame Patsy Reddy. Photo / Photosport

Wellington Rugby chair and Hurricanes board member Russell Poole, who has acted on the provincial union steering group for this pressing issue, confirmed the latest standoff.

“There are some of our members who would agree to the Pilkington report as it was published but there are a greater number who believe there are some things that need to be tweaked and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last number of months with Dame Patsy and the Māori Rugby board but unfortunately last Friday we reached an impasse on that situation so we will need to prepare our own paper,” Poole told the Herald.

“The largest point of difference, and where we couldn’t reach agreement, is around the wording that was appropriate to have sufficient representation from the community base of the game, which is the largest percentage of the game, on the new board.

“We are suggesting that is defined as having two years of PU board experience at some stage in their life which is very different from the current model.”

NZ Rugby is expected to distribute another tweaked proposal to the provincial unions today that suggests a transitional model to working towards a fully independent board.

The Māori Rugby Board is understood to have agreed to give up its automatic seat at the table, although the latest NZ Rugby proposal contains conditions that ensures Māori perspective, as well as gender and diversity targets, are fulfilled.

Poole used the analogy of building a family home to convey why most provincial unions believe their representation on the NZ Rugby board must be retained.

“One company comes along and says ‘here’s nine people but none of them have built a house before but trust us we know what we’re doing’. The next company comes along and six haven’t built a house but three have had some association with building a deck. The final company has three licensed builders with 10 years’ experience. Common sense says you pick the final company.

“The same logic applies here.”

New Zealand Rugby House. Photo / Mark Mitchell
New Zealand Rugby House. Photo / Mark Mitchell

With NZ Rugby establishing the separate Commercial Co board, following the sale of 7.5 per cent in commercial assets to US investment fund manager Silverlake, Poole argues the importance of maintaining community rugby representation is stronger than ever.

“The vast majority of the NZ Rugby board is community, domestic competitions and high-performance pathways. It makes sense that you want some people sitting at the table – not all – who understand that. That’s all we’re talking about. Nobody has come along with a better way of describing that than what is being proposed by the PUs.

“It doesn’t make sense that you wouldn’t want that experience or representation. It’s just a third. It can’t stymie anything. Last time I tested my maths three can’t out-vote six. I don’t see a downside to having that description. That’s not everybody’s view but it is the majority view of the provincial unions.”

The impasse is expected to lead to a Special General Meeting (SGM) vote from the 26 provincial unions which will pit their proposal against NZ Rugby’s. And, should the provincial unions opt for their model, Reddy would resign.

“In an ideal world there would be one proposal going to an SGM for the way forward,” Poole said. “We were 95 per cent of the way there but we couldn’t get 100. The PUs are working on finalising our paper to go to an SGM and I’m assuming there will be another paper put forward by Dame Patsy or one of the PUs who are supportive of the Pilkington report in its entirety, and it will then come down to a vote of the members.

“David Pilkington as recently as December in a meeting with the provincial union chairs and the NZ Rugby board said there is no one perfect governance model.

“NZ Cricket is moving back this year to appointing another direct member. There isn’t just one way so with significant change it’s trying to pick the best of everything. Everyone agrees there is a better way than what we’re currently doing.”

Contributing to the strained relationship between the provinces and NZ Rugby is the expectation that provincial union funding will be cut – possibly as soon as this year – as a result of the changing face and significantly decreased interest in the National Provincial Championship.

The provincial unions are also working with NZ Rugby on who will foot the bill for a $2.9 million Covid wage subsidy oversight that must be repaid to the Ministry of Social Development.

“It’s a busy relationship at the moment,” Poole said. “We’ve all got a common end. It’s unfortunate we’ve got a few big items on the table all at once. Given the extremes of those things from time to time there’s a bit of tension. Most of the time there’s a lot of good work to try and find a solution. The tension always gets the news but there’s far more good work that doesn’t get its fair due.”

Liam Napier has been a sports journalist since 2010, and his work has taken him to World Cups in rugby, netball and cricket, boxing world title fights and Commonwealth Games.

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you