Letter: Opportunity in a time of crisis

In another letter to the editor as we continue to encourage our readers to send CRAIG LEWIS submissions, Jarryd Pauls calls for Agustin Pichot to be backed to make much-needed changes to world rugby.

CALLING OUR READERS: Send your rugby letter to the editor

‘There was confusion, fear, uncertainty… but Dick Cheney saw something else, that no-one else did. He saw an opportunity.’

The quote about former US Vice-President Dick Cheney following the 9/11 terror attack in the 2018 film ‘Vice’ implicates Cheney as having sinister motives, before decisions were made that led to the loss of millions of lives. While this seems to be far-removed from the world of rugby, it does however highlight what few people talk about in the midst of a crisis.

Indeed, opportunity awaits in our great game, and while there are certainly power-hungry individuals with their own interests at heart, it is time for the game’s leaders to finally embrace what is best for the greater good in what has generally been a self-serving professional era.

The big news in the rugby world outside of the Covid-19 pandemic is the election battle between current chairman Bill Beaumont, and current vice-chairman Augustin Pichot. Beaumont is hoping to be re-elected with Bernard Laporte as his vice-chairman. Sadly for rugby, this Anglo-French alliance has all the stench of rugby being run by the old boys club that has continuously prioritised a small cluster of Northern Hemisphere unions at the expense of emerging nations.

Indeed, it is beggars belief that the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France will be the fifth edition in ten to be held in Europe. What is even more astonishing is that a country like Italy, with a national team that has gone five years without winning a match in the Six Nations, can be given three votes on the World Rugby Council. Italy hold as much power as any other union, while nations such as Japan and Fiji, which bring so much more to the table, be it in the fifteen-man code, sevens or both, each have one vote.

The truth is, outside of the Rugby World Cup, the game has become stale, and as a result it is time for change. Former legendary Argentine scrumhalf, Pichot, comes from a relatively ‘small’ rugby country in terms of playing numbers, and as such displays much empathy and understanding for rugby’s emerging nations.

Crucially, he believes in decentralising power and resources in the global game with a view to strengthening these smaller unions and reaching new markets. He is also an advocate of a Nations Championship made up of the top 12 teams in the world and incorporating the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship, with opportunities for two peripheral teams to also compete.

Some of Pichot’s other ideas are giving more power to coaches and players in creating and altering the laws of the game, with a view to making the game simpler for referees, players and fans. Furthermore, he has highlighted the need for the game to grow and wants to attract new and younger followers to the sport with the development of a marquee video game. He was in contact with EA Sports as far back as 2016. Sadly, such innovation has never been embraced during his time as second-in-charge.

Perhaps most importantly though, is that Pichot sees the need for the development of a global rugby calendar. This would see a change from the status quo of having different Northern and Southern Hemisphere seasons, to one universal season in which club rugby throughout the world is played in a single window, and international rugby in another. It is unbelievable that although there have been persistent cries for a global calendar for the best part of the last decade, the powers that be at world rugby have failed to make this happen.

One does not have to delve too deeply into the issues facing the game at present to understand why a global calendar would not only create a more level playing-field for all, but would also provide an ideal platform for the re-imagining, and perhaps, rebirth of domestic club competitions in the Southern Hemisphere such as Super Rugby and, in a more local context, the Currie Cup.

Perhaps younger readers will not understand how exciting and unique the Currie Cup once was, but the regular absence of locally-based Springboks for the vast majority and most recently the entirety of the Currie Cup season has given it a distinctly second-rate flavour previously associated with the now defunct Vodacom Cup. In my next article, I will outline some of the ideas I have for the future of the Southern Hemisphere game.

Sadly, a global season would require the buy-in of the current unions of the Six Nations, and this is difficult to envisage in a world in which those with power seldom look beyond their own selfish interests. This was highlighted when Pichot indicated that out of the six countries in this cluster, only the Welsh Rugby Union had bothered to listen to the ideas that he has for the game.

Unfathomably, the Fiji Rugby Union chairman Francis Kean, who has previously been convicted of manslaughter, was a supporter of Beaumont’s bid, and had been nominated for a place on World Rugby’s Executive Committee. He was seconded by the French. Mercifully, he has withdrawn amidst separate allegations of homophobia. However, these developments serve to highlight the struggles that Pichot faces, with even those representing the unions that Pichot aims to assist driven by their own desires for power.

In the meantime, we can only hope that Pichot gains enough support from those who truly have the best interests of rugby at heart before the vote on 26 April, the results of which will be revealed on 12 May. While Covid-19 has thrust many unions into the throws of panic, the time has never been better to embrace change, with a South American rugby maverick leading the charge.

– Jarryd Pauls

*If you’d like to join Jarryd in writing us a rugby letter, we invite you to send any of your thoughts or memories in an email to editor Craig Lewis at this address: [email protected]

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