Bill Beaumont, the outgoing facing his former ally Agustin Pichot: the vote for the presidency of World Rugby Sunday will look like a fratricidal duel against the background of health and economic crisis.
A vote on April 26, a result on May 12 and 51 votes to convince: to remain or become the boss of world rugby, the Englishman Beaumont (68 years old), current president, or the Argentinian Pichot (45 years old), his vice-president, must win the majority of the votes, ie 26 votes.
On paper, the outgoing Beaumont, associated with the president of the FFR Bernard Laporte as vice-president, favorite part. Except huge surprise, he should indeed be able to count on the votes of the Six Nations (Scotland, France, England, Ireland, Wales, Italy), which total 18 votes.
But, just before the election, the Englishman lost significant support with the withdrawal of the candidacy for the executive committee of Francis Kean, notably accused of homophobia. The president of the Fijian Federation, already convicted of manslaughter in 2006, is the target of an investigation launched by the international body, which brings discredit on the candidacy of Beaumont.
No reason to doubt the experienced boss of world rugby, who said he was "a little disappointed". Beaumont, who has been in office since 2016, can boast a rather flattering record: after the success of the 2019 World Cup in Japan, rugby has never been so followed or practiced.
"At the beginning, during your first mandate, you try to please everyone. In the second, you can be more courageous, more visionary and make a difference," Beaumont promised in an interview with AFP.
- Continuity or renewal -
The Englishman, former captain of XV de la Rose (34 caps in the 70s and 80s), wants to "make rugby more accessible" and intends to relaunch the project, aborted last year, of Nations Championship which would bring together dozen nations with a promotion-relegation system.
Opposite, Beaumont will face an opponent he knows well. Pichot, who is supported by the Rugby Championship teams (Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa), has indeed been its vice-president for four years.
The "Little General", brilliant half of scrum (71 selections) who largely participated in the emergence of sport and politics in Argentina, intends to "change mentalities".
"I think we can have a much better, better-managed overall rugby. We need to modernize the governing body to be even more in the spotlight, to be active but also to work better with players, clubs, private capital .... ", estimated Pichot with AFP.
The former player from Bristol and the Stade Français presents himself as the candidate of modernity. "I want to make rugby more democratic, more honest. It is leadership that must drive change. For the moment, rugby is very bureaucratic, very 'old-fashioned'. And we have to change all that", a also assured the Argentinian, who promised a quality rugby video game but also technological improvements, just to attract a new audience.
But to reduce the struggle for the presidency to a clash between the old and the new world would be a bit simplistic. The opposition of style is obvious but the declarations of intentions are similar: a world season, a review of governance, the well-being of the players, the growth of participation, sustainable finances ...
Because the coronavirus crisis worries: many federations are on the brink of a financial abyss, starting with Rugby Australia, which recently let go its director general (CEO) Raelene Castle, while the body recorded a deficit of 10 million Australian dollars (5.5 million euros) in 2019.
To help their respective Federations, Australian, New Zealand, Welsh, Fijian and Scottish players have agreed to cut wages. Getting rugby out of the crisis will be one of the first challenges for the new president of World Rugby.
© 2020 AFP