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IRB ready to close loophole allowing players to switch national allegiance for Rio 2016


George Smith

George Smith

George Smith

The International Rugby Board is ready to block exploitation of a loophole in qualifying regulations for Rio 2016 that enables players to switch national allegiance.

Changes to eligibility rules ahead of sevens' Olympics debut means a player can represent a country provided they have the correct passport and have not been capped by another team for 18 months.

An appearance in just one qualification event for the Games would consequently open the door to being selected for that nation's 15-a-side team.

European player of the year Steffon Armitage is considering his options with France for the 2015 World Cup due to England's refusal to pick anyone who is based overseas.

Other cases could see Steve Mafi swap Tonga for Australia and Wallabies great George Smith move in the opposite direction.

But chief executive Brett Gosper insists the IRB is alert to potential abuses of the system.

"There is a regulations committee that will look at all applications for transfer and they will look to see if it's for bona fide sevens reasons," Gosper said in London on Tuesday.

"There is a safety net and any transfer will have to be passed by the committee. They will act according to the spirit of the law.

"For example, if we have huge props applying for a career in sevens, then we'll smell a rat.

"That's an obvious example and there will be some cases that are in a grey area, but we want to ensure the integrity of the regulation and the spirit behind it is upheld.

"Any obvious abuses that go counter to that spirit of why we're doing this will be caught in the regulations committee net.

"But players will move in both codes by coming into the sevens game - that will happen."

Gosper confirmed the IRB is in negotiation with the Rugby Football Union over the staging of Aviva Premiership matches during the knock-out phase of the World Cup.

Alarmed by the possibility of five income-free months due to the sport's global showpiece being held in September and October, England's clubs are seeking compensation from the RFU for the delay in starting the 2015-16 season.

Allowing Premiership games to take place when the World Cup quarter-finals start on October 17 is one way of alleviating the problem.

"Those conversations have been taking place and we're optimistic that we'll come an agreement that will be good for everyone," Gosper said.

PA Media