WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's rugby players are not blocking the Silver Lake deal over the money but rather have concerns about leaving the game in the "best hands", All Blacks veteran Dane Coles said.
The proposed deal, under which U.S. firm Silver Lake would buy 12.5% of New Zealand Rugby's commercial rights for NZ$387.5 million ($281.8 million), came a step closer on Thursday when 26 provincial rugby unions endorsed it at an annual general meeting.
It cannot go through without sign-off from New Zealand Rugby Players' Association (NZRPA), however, and many fans in the rugby-mad country have expressed concern about the iconic All Blacks brand coming under foreign control.
"If it was about the money, we'd say yes, plain and simple – but it's not about the money," Coles, a player representative on the NZRPA board, told New Zealand's Newshub in comments published on Friday.
"It's about leaving the game in the best hands, and having the future as bright as we can, and looking after everyone, and not selling a percentage of it.
"It's something we could look back (on) in 100 years and say, 'Why did we make that decision?' - or we could look back in 100 years and say 'We're glad we made that decision.'"
The impasse has come as players negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with New Zealand Rugby (NZR).
The NZRPA said on Thursday they needed to resolve what the collective bargaining agreement would "look like" beyond 2021.
The union said it had agreed with NZR to pause meetings to consult with stakeholders.
One provincial rugby union chief executive said players were holding the game "to ransom" and it looked like a "money grab".
Coles hit back at the criticism.
"The Players Association has been getting a bit of stick lately, (like) we should kind of shut our mouths and take the deal," said the hooker.
"But we wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't ask questions and have courageous conversations with New Zealand Rugby about what's going on."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Himani Sarkar)