WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Pasifika players are considering a motion to boycott this year's World Cup in Japan after media reports revealed that a proposed shake-up of world rugby would exclude minor nations.
The Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) body said on Saturday that their 600-strong membership of mostly Europe-based professionals were "discussing and debating" a motion brought by senior test players.
The boycott call was a "'legitimate player protest' at World Rugby's reported plans to exclude the Pacific for as long as 12 seasons from a new TV-driven world league of the top 12 Test teams," the PRPW said on its website https://www.pacificrugbywelfare.com/blog/prpw-rugby-world-cup-boycott.
Samoa lock Daniel Leo, who heads the PRPW, a London-based lobbying group, added that he had spoken to the International Rugby Players (IRP) union and the New Zealand-based Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) union about a potential boycott.
"PRPW strongly support the position of IRP and PRP in condemning this proposal made by World Rugby, and any other format that restricts the Pacific Islands' ability to advance as rugby nations," Leo said.
"So now is the time for the voice of Pacific rugby to be heard ... (and) we invite our national unions to join this collective effort to repel this proposal, before it is too late."
Representatives from the PRP and the Samoa and Fiji rugby unions were not immediately available for comment on Saturday.
Global rugby was in uproar on Thursday when details of a proposed 'World League' involving only established Tier One nations along with the United States and Japan were published by New Zealand media.
Reports said 'Tier Two' emerging European and Pacific nations would be excluded from the competition for at least 12 years, prompting a robust response from their players and a denial from World Rugby, who said nothing had been decided.
Leo said the shake-up was reminiscent of the 1995 formation of SANZAR, the southern hemisphere governing body which started the Tri Nations tournament between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and the provincial competition, Super Rugby.
Pasifika teams were shut out of the Tri Nations, which has since expanded to include Argentina and been rebranded the Rugby Championship.
They were also excluded from Super Rugby which is comprised mostly of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia-based teams, with one each from Japan and Argentina.
"This is exactly what happened when they created Super Rugby and all of the subsequent years of expansion," Leo said in the statement. "Their watchword was – let's take their players but whatever happens, keep the islands out.'
"This will be Pacific Rugby Disaster 2.0."
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga have all qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the absence of their top players in Japan would be "a major headache" for organisers, the PWRP said.
Leo said the boycott motion was "already with the PRPW board".
Rumblings emerged during the 2015 World Cup about a potential future boycott, but the PRPW threat is the most significant yet made by Pasifika players who have long complained about their treatment by the game's power brokers.
They grumbled about the disparity of disbursements for teams participating at the 2015 tournament, with top-tier nations receiving multi-million pound compensation payments for forgone revenues, while smaller nations received one-off payments of about 150,000 pounds.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ken Ferris/Ian Ransom)