MELBOURNE (Reuters) - New Zealand Rugby (NZR) have formed a committee with the country's five Super Rugby teams to review operating models and plot a way forward for the domestic game amid a shutdown in global sport brought by the coronavirus.
Super Rugby, which also includes teams from Australia, South Africa, Japan and Argentina, was suspended in March after seven rounds of the season when travel curbs and border controls aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 made it untenable.
As in other rugby nations, the shutdown has idled hundreds of players and staff in New Zealand and placed pressure on the finances of NZR and provincial unions.
NZR said the review committee was comprised of the chairmen of the five Super Rugby sides and NZR, along with NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson and prominent sports executive Liz Dawson as a "Private Investor Representative".
The committee's review called 'Aratipu', the Maori word for growth, will focus on "growing, regeneration and invigoration", NZR said in a statement on Monday.
"All of the Super Rugby licenses were up for renewal in 2020 and a review was already underway as part of that, however, the impact of COVID-19 creates another dimension and means we need to take a broader look at how we continue the 25-year legacy of Super Rugby for New Zealand," Blues chairman Don Mackinnon, who will chair the committee, said in the statement.
"The scope of Aratipu will include the New Zealand Super Rugby competition (local and offshore), clarify Super Rugby’s role in the domestic high-performance pathway, review the ownership and equity structure, and digital rights."
The committee is expected to submit a preliminary report to NZR by the end of June, with the review's findings to be provided later in the year.
New Zealand have dominated Super Rugby since its inception in 1996, claiming 17 out of 24 championships and the last five in succession.
With virtually all sport halted and teams unable to travel due to COVID-19 curbs, the future of the competition remains up in the air.
NZR CEO Robinson said his administration was committed to SANZAAR, the governing body of Super Rugby which also includes the Australian, South African and Argentine rugby unions.
But Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean cast doubt on the competition starting up again with South Africa and Argentina's involvement due to the coronavirus.
"I can’t see and (NZR) can’t see South Africa and Argentina being involved anywhere in the short term along the way,” McLean told The Australian newspaper.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Michael Perry)