by MICHAEL FIELD AND MARC HINTON
NEW ZEALAND faces the embarrassing prospect of being forced to host Fiji military coup leader Frank Bainimarama as a VIP during the Rugby World Cup, even though he is blacklisted from entering this country.
And it's possible Bainimarama's convicted killer brother-in-law, Francis Kean, could also attend the tournament if he is successful in staging his own coup and takes over as chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union.
Both men would be hosted at the taxpayer's expense, and their VIP treatment is expected to cost around $45,000. Under International Rugby Board rules, the host nation pays for two officials from each participating nation to attend.
If Kean becomes chairman, Bainimarama is expected to become the FRU president, a position he held in 2003 when he attended the RWC in Australia. He has vowed to be at the 2011 event.
In 2009 the Labour Department confirmed that exemptions to the coup blacklist would be granted to protect multilateral sporting tournaments hosted by New Zealand, such as the Wellington Sevens and the Rugby World Cup.
Kean and Bainimarama would be hobnobbing with guests including British royals, prime ministers including John Key, Australia's Julia Gillard, Russia's Vladimir Putin and possibly Britain's David Cameron.
Meanwhile, International Rugby Board top brass arrive in Suva tomorrow, hoping to fend off a coup that could install Fiji navy commander Kean as head of the rugby union.
Kean was convicted of manslaughter after punching a man at the wedding of Bainimarama's daughter in 2007. He was sentenced to 18 months' jail but was kept on full pay behind bars for three months, released and reappointed to head the navy.
Charlie Charters, a former Fiji Rugby Union insider who now writes thrillers in England, says Kean is the "frontrunner, in fact, basically at the moment, the only runner" to take over as chairman.
"This would be quite a junket to get, but would also be a big thumb in the eye for the New Zealand government, which could be told by the IRB it is obligated to invite Frank and/or Francis Kean."
NZ Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew confirmed that the cost of the VIP hosting programme was the responsibility of the host nation, and as such, came out of the relatively meagre income stream from ticket sales.
Each participating country gets to nominate two officials, and the tournament host is required to transport, accommodate, feed and entertain them. No expense is spared.
The officials are expected to have their own drivers, stay in five-star hotels and to dine in the country's top restaurants.
"Certainly a large chunk of the VIP costs lie with the host union. But that's been known for some time and has always been part of our planning and budgeting," said Tew.
He confirmed the programme was a "significant" budget item but described it as a standard arrangement for an event of the stature of the world cup.
"There are no surprises, it's just part of the deal," added Tew.
The NZRU and the government are budgeting on losing more than $30 million on the world cup, and a large portion of that will come out of the taxpayer's pocket.
Tew did not want to comment on the Fijian union's situation, describing it as "an IRB matter".