We will admit that a new election of a chairman and vice-chairman of World Rugby (WR) is hardly a story to get the pulses racing, but for those of us that are interested or concerned about the future of rugby, the recent WR elections are important indicators of the future direction the sport will take.
On the 1st July 2016 the incumbent chairman Bernard Lapasset will be replaced by Bill Beaumont and the former Argentinian international Agustin Pichot will take up the vice-chairman role.
The corridors of World Rugby are not exactly alien to Beaumont who served as vice-chairman from 2007 to 2012. If you are looking for the archetypal committee man he’s it; RFU chairman, Chairman of the RFU, tour manager of the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour and member of the executive committee at the Rugby World Cup Board. If there is a committee to sit on, he has sat on it.
As part of his election campaign, Beaumont put together a manifesto which set out his principles, values and priorities if he was elected as chairman.
The Beaumont Manifesto
The Beaumont manifesto has 5 priorities:
- Enhancing global competition – The manifesto states that “I will address the challenge of the global calendar immediately…” and “I will review expansion in to the likes of club world championships to maximise opportunities and revenue” . In subsequent interviews Beaumont has mentioned moving the 6 Nations to later in the season, saying: “I think you have got to be prepared to look at it.”
- Preserving integrity – “We must protect rugby’s integrity and ensure it’s a clean credible sport” he said. The document goes on to say “Doping is a concern for us all. I think what we have to do is keep educating our players. We spend a lot of time, a lot of resources, not only in world rugby but individual unions, educating players that it isn’t smart to take drugs and you’ll be found out.” An interesting, if somewhat vague statement in the manifesto is that Beaumont sees it as important to “…….striking a sensible balance between consistency and common sense in such issues as those surrounding the on-field versus citing disciplinary process”.
- Continuing to protect players – The document says “It’s our responsibility to make sure we look after the whole player and not just for 80 minutes, but for life,” and “There is far more scrutiny around concussion than there ever has been in my opinion but it’s still not enough.” It goes on to say that ”Tournament scheduling must serve players’ welfare….”
- Optimising partnerships – This priority is explained in the manifesto as ensuring World Rugby has a sound commercial structure that makes the most of rugby’s potential. Beaumont goes on to specifically talk about safeguarding the Olympic status of 7s but doesn’t really provide any further examples of how this optimisation will be enhanced in practise.
- Empowering and strengthening unions – Beaumont sees World Rugby’s role as empowering the various unions to optimise and support their own domestic game. He goes on to explain that most rugby nations have the same shared fundamental needs (modern facilities, qualified coaches and referees and grass roots programmes), but doesn’t provide much clarity about how this will be achieved.
The full manifesto can be read via this link http://www.englandrugbyfiles.com/bill-beaumont-manifesto/ .
It is not a particularly detailed document, and other than one or two specific references there are few radical ideas that jump out as being fundamental shifts in the way rugby is run. This lack of fresh ideas is probably due to a combination of the fact Beaumont has been a core member of the rugby world’s “blazerdom” for a long period, along with the fact we know what the main problems are in rugby – we just find it insurmountable to fix them.
The issue of a single global calendar is a good example. The problem has been know and discussed for years but we are no closer to achieving it today than we were in the mid-1990s when the game went professional. Will Beaumont be able to bring a fresh perspective and impetus to this problem?
Beaumont’s Track Record
It is probably fair to say that Beaumont is a conservative choice as chairman given his background in the higher echelons of rugby committees and his traditional approach to rugby development. Back in 2011, when he was vice-chairman of the then IRB (now World Rugby), the understanding was that he would take over the reins from the incumbent chairman Bernard Lapasset. Unfortunately for Beaumont Lapasset got a taste for the role and stood again – defeating Beaumont in an acrimonious battle. The battle was seen as the reformer (Lapasset) versus the old school rugby brigade (Beaumont).
The travails of the 20111 election are described in more detail here: http://en.espn.co.uk/england/rugby/story/156088.html
Beaumont has also incurred the wrath of a number of supporters of tier 2 nations in the past, with what could be construed as being belittling or outdated comments against the lesser nations. These are covered in more detail in the tier2blogspot article here http://tier2rugby.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/old-school-bill-beaumont-bad-news-for.html
In his role as RFU Chairman Beaumont was happy to back England players when the Lions coach Warren Gatland suggested that English players may lose out on selection for the 2013 Lions tour, due to the fallout from the England 2011 World Cup Campaign. Beaumont struck back at Gatland, stating that “English players have always represented the Lions with enormous pride”. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/feb/12/bill-beaumont-warren-gatland-lions
Will he be a success?
To counter the charge that this is just another chairman from the old guard, traditional rugby nations it is perhaps relevant that Beaumont has been teamed up with the Argentinian Agustin Pichot to provide a balance of the old and new rugby order. However, how much influence Pichot will have over Beaumont and World Rugby’s direction will become evident over time, but he has already rattled the cage by suggesting that the test residency rules should be extended from 3 to 5 years.
Given this change will adversely affect the tier 1 nations more than the developing nations, it may be an early test of the dynamics between the chaiman and the vice-chairman – and by proxy, a clash between the traditional and the reformers. Will the more conservative approach hold sway or will we see a move to a more open and democratic World Rugby approach?
There is the sense that rugby is at a pivotal moment where it will either take the embedded in its traditional heartlands and remain a fringe sport. In order to move the game on, it is vital that those reformers and representatives from the “non-traditional” nations get to have a bigger say in how the game is run. This could be the role that Pichot takes up but it could bring him in to direct conflict with Beaumont.
There is no doubt that Beaumont is a man steeped in rugby history, who is well respected across the world, but what rugby needs now is someone with vision to take the game on to new and more exciting places. We have our doubts that Beaumont is that man given he has been at the centre of the established order for decades, and with it, a golden opportunity has been missed to enhance the game for the better.
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