CHRIS FOY: Home nations must put game's future above self-interest

CHRIS FOY: Home nations must put game’s future above self-interest in World Rugby’s chairman election

  • Established rugby nations have been insular in build-up to World Rugby election
  • Agustin Pichot promises vital reform while Bill Beaumont will retain status quo
  • Professional game is in need of fresh impetus, but Six Nations want closed shop

It is a sad, inescapable fact that the main barrier to rugby’s progress lies here; in the home nations and those other centres of the sport’s narrow European landscape – France and Italy.

According to Agustin Pichot, in his illuminating discussion with Sir Clive Woodward, Wales are the only one of the Six Nations unions who have bothered to directly engage with him as he bids to become World Rugby’s next chairman. The game’s most powerful voting block have already made their minds up, evidently. Discussion and debate will not come into it. There is no prospect of a rigorous process. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas.

Instead of being missionaries for their oval-ball code, the RFU and their main continental counterparts are happy to be big fish in a small pond. The northern elite want to retain Sir Bill Beaumont and the status quo while a southern alliance has formed behind Pichot as he bids for the leading role with a bold agenda of reform.

It comes as no surprise that Wales were only Six Nations union to engage with Agustin Pichot

Just once, it would be wonderful if rugby officialdom in these parts could even hint at a progressive attitude, but there is no chance of that. Speaking in the Mail on Sunday, Beaumont claimed it was unfair to deride the Six Nations hierarchy as ‘blockers’, adding: ‘We have to have a global game and the Six Nations appreciate that, of course they do. They are very open at looking at change.’ 

The former England captain is defending his supporters, as he must do, but deep down he will know that the defence is hollow. Those who run the sport in the home nations are fearful of change, as it might lead to a shiny new world order and the threat that they could be left behind. So they shot down Pichot’s Nations League plan last year and now they are seeking to thwart the ex-Argentina skipper’s latest mission.

The established European countries don’t want Six Nations promotion and relegation. They don’t want to open the door to up-start contenders such as Georgia. They have no interest in watering the game’s green shoots in Spain and Germany and elsewhere. They want to stay cosy and closed.

The established nations are fearful of reform and want Bill Beaumont to maintain status quo 

But the overwhelming truth for rugby is that the current professional model is broken. It needs to be radically altered, not just tweaked and patched-up. The time has come for a bold overhaul. And not in 10 years. Now. 

The game was in trouble before the coronavirus pandemic and now it is on the edge of a precipice, especially in the southern hemisphere, where they have been grappling with player migration and declining audiences. The product is stale.

At least, the way it is shaping up, the vote may be decided by some of the so-called Tier 2 nations and the regions away from traditional hubs. This would seem to enhance Pichot’s chances, but his opponent has shrewdly brought Bernard Laporte on board as a master of the political jungle.

Italy are one country unlikely to entrtain the idea of promotion and relegation in Six Nations

When the president of the French federation staged a heist to pinch the hosting rights for the 2023 World Cup from under South African noses, Beaumont appeared stunned as he read out the result. Now the pair have formed an unlikely Anglo-French partnership and the horse-trading is in full swing.

While Beaumont is the favourite, it could be a close call, which it needs to be. For rugby’s future health and progress, this ballot must culminate in one of two outcomes; a shock victory for Pichot and a European willingness to embrace his revolution, or a near-miss for the challenger which serves as a stark message to the incumbent about the need for change.

Protecting the status quo will not protect the game at large. Sadly, the powers-that-be in these islands and nearby would rather defend their seats at the top table, even if the whole ship sinks beneath them.

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