Former England rugby union captain Bill Beaumont has been elected to serve a second four-year term as head of the sport’s world governing body.
Initially thought of as a shoe-in for the position, Beaumont was made to work harder than expected after former Argentinian scrum-half Agustin Pichot built late momentum by promising radical changes for the sport.
Pichot got the backing of the Asian and Southern Hemisphere rugby unions, but did not win enough votes from Northern Hemisphere unions, and Beaumont prevailed 28-23 in a ballot of the World Rugby Council.
Fédération Française de Rugby president Bernard Laporte was elected the new vice-chairman, standing unopposed.
Pichot’s late challenge had gained traction with his mandate to shake up the traditional running of the game. He pitched himself as the anti-establishment candidate saying the organization was over politicised, calling for more transparency and more engagement with emerging rugby nations.
Among proposals to transform the sport, Pichot said World Rugby needed to embrace competitive esports, HawkEye technology and the idea of a direct-to-consumer streaming service. He also wanted to use the Covid-19 shutdown to realign the global rugby union calendar.
He said: “This is a time to re-set the structure of our sport and build a game with global appeal, because the shortfall of Covid-19 will be big. We don’t want nations going bankrupt. It’s about protection for everyone, not just for a few.”
Beaumont has promised an independent review of World Rugby’s governance, and to spearhead a drive for an improved global calendar. His first call after his re-election was for continued unity as the sport deals with impact of Covid-19.
Speaking after his re-election, Beaumont said: “Over the last four years we have achieved a lot, but we are at half-time and need to press on in the second half. I now have a clear mandate to work with Bernard to implement progressive, sustainable change.
“As an organisation, we must lead, be transparent, accountable and continue to serve for all. We must be united in our drive to make this great sport even better, simpler, safer and more accessible. We must listen to players, fans, competitions, our unions and regions, and take decisions that are in the best interests of all with our strong values to the fore.
“Now is not the time for celebration. We have work to do. We are tackling Covid-19 and must implement an appropriate return-to-rugby strategy that prioritises player welfare, while optimising any opportunity to return to international rugby this year in full collaboration with club competitions for the good of players, fans and the overall financial health of the sport.”
Critics have already pointed to the make-up of the new executive committee – also elected in the ballot – as evidence of a need for further change at World Rugby. The 12-strong body includes only three representatives from outside the game’s traditional heartlands. They are one Tunisian and two Americans, with one of those the only woman on the exco.
Brent Impey, chairman of New Zealand Rugby, told Reuters: “There is still a level of governance reform that is overdue, it would be good to see the courage taken to make the decisions needed to ensure the continued sustainability and success of rugby globally – not just for a limited number of unions and regions.”