Hawaii team backed by former All Blacks pulls out of 2021 MLR

(Reuters) - Kanaloa Hawaii, a team backed by a group of former All Blacks of Pacific Island heritage, will not join Major League Rugby (MLR) next year after an “exclusive negotiating agreement” with the league expired.

The team were given provisional approval in July to join the MLR next year but the league said in a statement here on Friday that no agreement had been reached by which Kanaloa could compete in the 2021 season.

The Guardian reported that Kanaloa chief executive Tracy Atiga had expressed concerns over the financial stability of the league amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Given the uncertainty and continued complexities of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Hawaii and across the U.S. we undertook a due diligence review and an investigation into the long-term viability of MLR,” the Guardian quoted Atiga as saying on Facebook.

“The result of which presented a range of high-level concerns for our organisation. The MLR has not been able to provide the type of assurances that would enable the trust and confidence required to continue with our membership goals.”

Atiga said Kanaloa would look to provide an alternative option for players, staff and volunteers for 2021.

The league said: “MLR Commissioner George Killebrew has encouraged this potential ownership group to continue with its development plans so that it may be in a position to join MLR for a future season.”

MLR cancelled much of its 2020 season due to the pandemic, and the team in Colorado disbanded, allowing the league to seek further expansion from next season.

Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson