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Fiji regime tells rugby chiefs to quit

SUVA, January 11- Fiji's military regime on Tuesday demanded that rugby union chiefs in the Pacific nation quit en masse if the sport wanted government funding for this year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.Sports Minister Filipe Bole said he was concerned at official findings the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) mismanaged a fundraising lottery and would withhold three million Fiji dollars ($1.6 million) in grants until those responsible departed.

"The provision of funding is conditional upon the change of FRU administration and the formation of a new FRU board," Bole said in a statement.

He said the FRU needed to implement change at the top to ensure the national rugby team received adequate resources to prepare for the World Cup.

"Of course those at the centre of this debacle and mismanagement can resign themselves to quickly put in place a new administration to ensure our boys have enough time to prepare," he said.

Bole said the government, which seized power in a bloodless 2006 coup, had informed the International Rugby Board of its stance.

The row centres on a lottery the FRU drew in late December, which Fiji’s Commerce Commission found had been improperly run.

The consumer watchdog found more than 155,000 of the 350,000 Fiji dollars raised through the lottery was missing and funds had been used for improper purposes, including sending an FRU official to the Hong Kong Sevens in March last year.

In a report released Tuesday, it recommended criminal prosecutions against those responsible for misusing the money, a re-draw of the lottery and said it would seek to impose fines totalling 125,000 Fiji dollars in the FRU.

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The FRU could not be contacted for comment. However, in a statement released Saturday it denied any wrongdoing and accused the Commerce Commission of acting "unlawfully and with little regard to anything except self-promotion".

Media reports in Fiji said the FRU would meet later Tuesday to discuss its position.

Fiji’s military strongman, leader Voreqe Bainimarama, is a keen rugby fan and delayed staging his 2006 coup until after the annual rugby match between teams representing the police and army.

He has since failed to honour commitments to hold democratic elections, resulting in Fiji’s expulsion from the Commonwealth of mostly former British colonies and the Pacific Islands Forum.

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