Pacific Islands’ uproar is justified. So what about their Super Rugby exclusion? | Bret Harris

It was good to hear Australia will not support a World League concept, but the irony should not be lost on the Pacific Island nations. Rugby Australia’s chief executive, Raelene Castle, last week made clear the organisation’s stance on the controversial plans, yet Australia is one of the Sanzaar nations which have effectively shut out Pacific Island participation in Super Rugby since the inception of the competition in 1996.

Each time Sanzaar re-negotiates its broadcast deal and considers new competition structures, there is talk of one of Fiji, Samoa or Tonga (or a combined Pacific Islands team) gaining admission to Super Rugby. Yet nothing has eventuated to date. Instead, over the 23-year history of the competition, Sanzaar has expanded to include teams from Perth (the Western Force have since been axed), Melbourne, Port Elizabeth (the Southern Kings have since been re-located to Europe), Japan and Argentina.

The Pacific Islands have been overlooked by Sanzaar for the same reason they were reportedly overlooked by World Rugby – commercialism. The three Pacific Island nations have a combined population of just over one million – Fiji (905,502); Samoa (196,440); Tonga (108,020) – which is too small to generate the revenue demanded by elite professional rugby, particularly all-important broadcast monies.

Yet a systematic recruitment policy by world rugby’s top nations has resulted in players of Pacific Island heritage making up almost 20% of the world’s professional player population. This is an anomaly World Rugby must address if the code is to truly live by its traditional values and ethos.

Australia’s foreign import policy is designed in part to facilitate the recruitment of talented, young Pacific Islanders, otherwise known as foreign development players, who become eligible for the Wallabies after a three-year residency. About half the current Wallabies squad are of Pacific Islander heritage, although many were actually born in Australia.

The leaking of World Rugby’s intentions created outrage and has led to speculation Pacific Island players will boycott the World Cup in Japan later this year. However, since the controversy erupted, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper, who is an Australian, has given assurances the Pacific Islands will be taken into consideration in any potential World League. But the Pacific Islanders should turn their attention away from any global league and focus on gaining admission to Super Rugby.

The World League is an interesting idea in theory, formalising the international “friendlies”, for want of a better term, which are played every year in the June and November Test windows into a meaningful competition. But itis unlikely to get off the ground because European nations will not want to subsidise the southern hemisphere countries of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – in other words Sanzaar.

Unlike the proposed World League, Super Rugby is an established competition centred largely around the Pacific Ocean. Ten of the current 15 teams are located in countries lying in the region. From a geographical point of view it makes much more sense for a Pacific Island team to play in Super Rugby than the four South African sides or the Jaguares of Argentina, who are halfway around the world from Australia and New Zealand.

Perhaps World Rugby believes there is commercial potential for rugby in Argentina, a football-mad nation of 43 million? Otherwise, World Rugby simply supported a competitive rugby nation which had nowhere to play.

Similarly, the Pacific Island nations also deserve World Rugby’s support to help them find an elite, professional competition they can participate in. Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have proud histories in the World Cup and are capable of causing upsets against so-called tier one nations.

Japan (11th) and the USA (13th) have been touted as possible participants in the proposed World League, presumably because their potential commercial potential, but Fiji (ninth) are ranked ahead of both of them in the current world rankings. A combined Pacific Islander team would be even more competitive. Such a team could even play home games in Hawaii, which embraces its Polynesian culture, and potentially provide a gateway to the American market.

There is the argument that the best Pacific Islanders play for rich European clubs and may not necessarily want to return to play in a Super Rugby team, but Argentina faced the same problem and are managing to develop a competitive Jaguares side.

Maybe the Pacific Islanders will not offer much in terms of domestic broadcast rights, but they would potentially add significant value to foreign broadcast rights, particularly in the northern hemisphere, which is under-pinning the finances southern hemisphere rugby.

And, of course, Pacific Isalnders offer the world in terms of their talent, skill and passion for the game. And if Sanzaar was truly concerned about the Pacific Islands, it would admit them or a combined Pacific Islands team to Super Rugby when it re-negotiates its next broadcast deal.