Fijian government criticised over rights dispute

World Rugby, the global governing body for rugby union, has criticised the Fijian government for its handling of a recent dispute over media rights for the Sevens World Series.

World Rugby last month lifted a rights embargo on the Fijian broadcast feed for the series after it suspended its rights deal with Fiji TV earlier in December. World Rugby initially said that it would block the feed after Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama imposed the ‘Television (Cross-Carriage of Designated Events) Decree' under which the tournament’s matches must be shared with other broadcasters.

The dispute led to a management shuffle at Fiji TV, during which deputy chairman of the board, Gary Callaghan, resigned while chief executive Tevita Gonelevu and head of content Tanya Waqanika were dismissed.

In the wake of the dispute, has intercepted a letter in which World Rugby lawyer Susan Ahern and commercial head Murray Barnett outline their frustrations to Fiji attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Ahern and Barnett reportedly said that the decision to black out television screens is “not the fault of Fiji TV or World Rugby” but instead the government. The letter also said the decision to share the feed was taken by Fiji TV and not World Rugby.

“World Rugby takes the view that there has been contractual interference and we are within our rights (and indeed our obligation to the whole of the global rugby family and supporters) to withhold the provision of the feed to the series from Fiji TV pending satisfactory engagement and clarifications from the Fiji Government – none of which have been provided to date,” the letter said.

Fiji TV was forced by the ruling regime to breach its exclusive contract for the tournament.

“We are conscious that it is the Fijian population who will be disadvantaged if the dialogue does not commence – but that is entirely within the hands of your department,” the letter added.

The letter also said other countries have designated event legislation but nothing as “broad and all-encompassing” as that which Fiji is applying, while there was no evidence that Fiji’s government was trying to consult “and we are asking that you do so now and engage with event owners.”