'Oil Blacks': NZR comfortable with new sponsorship deal
New Zealand’s all-conquering rugby side has a new moniker – the Oil Blacks – bestowed after the country’s rugby union governing body signed a multi-million dollar deal with petrochemical giant INEOS.
At a trying time for New Zealand Rugby (NZR), it announced the six-year deal on Wednesday with the British company – which is a major investor in high performance sport.
The tie-up has sparked major controversy, however, with 13,000 Kiwis signing a Greenpeace petition telling NZR to ditch the association due to Ineos being among the world’s biggest polluters.
NZR chief executive Mark Robinson claimed player buy-in for the sponsorship, deferring repeatedly when questioned about the ethics of a deal during a government-declared climate emergency.
“We’re really comfortable with the due diligence we’ve done over the last several months,” he said.
“We’re very heartened about the work INEOS is doing around investment and sustainability.”
Robinson said he took community sentiment “very seriously” but “ultimately you have to weigh those considerations up with more broadly what we believe is in the right interest of the game”.
The lucrative sponsorship comes as NZR attempts to answer several challenges for the sport – beginning with where and when the All Blacks Tests will be played this year.
Tough new border rules have required a Rugby Championship shake-up, with no certainty beyond the Bledisloe opener against the Wallabies at Auckland’s Eden Park on August 7.
NZR would like to play a second match in Wellington a week later but have been stymied by craft beer festival Beervana’s existing booking at Sky Stadium.
The All Blacks then hope to head to Perth for the Bledisloe concluder on August 21, aiming to announce full series details within a week.
Two Tests against South Africa also hang in the balance depending on the government’s border settings.
The Springboks tour is dependent on New Zealand reopening its borders by late September, as Robinson isn’t be comfortable with the South African party taking places in NZ’s quarantine hotel system, known as MIQ.
“I can’t see that scenario happening. We wouldn’t have people coming through MIQ and expecting them to play games,” he said.
Beyond the INEOS sponsorship, NZR still has no clarity on its proposed partial sell-off to US private equity firm Silver Lake, worth $NZ465million ($A439 million).
The players association has rebelled over the deal, backing a counter-proposal from local firm Forsyth Barr, and will meet NZR next week to advance talks.
Former captain Ritchie McCaw says the Silver Lake deal “scares” him, an investment which would mean for the first time in the All Blacks’ storied history, they are not wholly owned by Kiwis.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now