The irony of the vote to determine the next World Rugby chairman is the often-maligned tier two nations hold the balance of power to shape the game’s future.
The April 26 vote, set to take place via email, to either reinstate former England captain Bill Beaumont or anoint Argentinian halfback turned passionate administrator Agustin Pichot’s fresh vision for the global game, is brewing another north versus south standoff.
Sanzaar’s collective – New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Argentina – are expected to throw their support behind Pichot’s push for change.
The Six Nations unions are, meanwhile, aligning behind Beaumont’s status quo.
Such a familiar, fraught script leaves smaller nations controlling the fate of the next global chairman.
As politicking ramps up behind the scenes, the Herald has obtained a circulating document which, while one-sided, attempts to expose Beaumont’s broken promises over the last four years.
Titled “fact checking Bill’s pledges” the document outlines five key points, starting with the failure to deliver a global season.
In 2016, when elected chairman, Beaumont pledged to address the global season, review expansion into the likes of a world club championship and look at moving the Six Nations to later in the season.
None of which transpired.
Four years on, following the failed bid to get the Nations Championship concept off the ground, Beaumont is again promising to deliver an aligned global calendar.
The second point of contention in the document is dubbed “fairness”.
In 2016, Beaumont said by the end of his term more tier two nations would be playing the established elite. Yet Georgia remains indefinitely frozen out of the Six Nations, while other tier two nations frequently bemoan their lack of progress and top-table influence.
Next on the agenda is finance.
Four years ago Beaumont said he would ensure World Rugby has a sound commercial structure that maximises rugby’s potential value. The document instead claims rugby’s financial situation is worse now than in 2016.
New Zealand Rugby have revealed All Blacks star Sam Whitelock could make a surprise return to the Crusaders this year.https://t.co/3bVGw3VpDO
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 18, 2020
Pichot has called for a decade-long financial plan to offset losses rugby regularly incurs, as the Covid-19 crisis magnifies the lack of financial stability across the board. This is particularly evident as Rugby Australia desperately attempts to avoid financial ruin.
But it is also true of the long-standing inequitable revenue-sharing arrangements between the north and south.
Other issues raised in the document include ongoing player welfare concerns, and the game’s integrity in regards to tackling performance-enhancing drug use.
Based on the fact each nation holds a disproportionate three votes each, most assume Sanzaar and the Six Nations will determine the next chairman.
New Zealand’s three votes will be cast by chief executive Mark Robinson, former All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson and recent Melbourne Storm chairman Bart Campbell, NZ Rugby’s nomination to join World Rugby’s executive committee.
The reality is, however, those at the shallow end of the voting spectrum suddenly assume great importance.
At this point, eight days out from the vote, the Herald has learned 11 of the 50 votes, excluding Beaumont who holds a casing say, remain undecided.
These include North America, the bankrupt United States, Fiji, Samoa, Oceania, Japan, Romania and Georgia.
All will be highly influential in determining the final outcome.
Other voting blocs such as Rugby Europe, Africa, South America, Asia, all of whom get two votes, are equally as pivotal.
Sources in the north indicate Beaumont is confident of victory. This may be based on the premise that his running vice-chairman, French rugby president Bernard Laporte, appears to have struck deals with swing voting countries.
France have, for instance, backed Fiji’s nomination for World Rugby’s executive committee, Francis Kean, who was convicted of manslaughter after killing a man in 2006.
France also seconded Africa’s nomination to the same committee, Khaled Babbou.
On the other side of the fence Argentina withdrew their pitch to host the 2027 World Cup, leaving Australia as the sole bid at this stage. Argentina also supported Australia’s nomination for the World Rugby’s executive committee, Brett Robinson.
From a Sanzaar perspective, Pichot is seen as an energised, inter-generational figure who will finally shake up the gin and tonic brigade and achieve long-overdue global progress.
Whether he gets the chance, though, rests with many smaller rugby nations often overlooked.
– By Liam Napier
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