Rugby is facing the shocking prospect of being dumped from the Olympics in the wake of the homophobic scandal that has rocked World Rugby.
Last Tuesday, Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) chairman Francis Kean resigned from the world body’s council and his chairmanship of the FRU following accusations of ‘rampant homophobia’.
Kean was also seeking a place on the World Rugby’s executive committee in the upcoming elections, but has since withdrawn.
Kean was accused of discrimination, and the use of graphic and violent homophobic language, as part of his concurrent role in charge of Fiji’s prison services. He was also previously convicted of manslaughter in 2007.
The scandal threatened to undermine the elections for World Rugby’s next chairman, which opened on Monday, and now could cost rugby its coveted spot in the Olympics.
Incumbent World Rugby chairman, former England captain Bill Beaumont, is facing a challenge from former Argentina captain Augustin Pichot, who is the committee’s current vice-chairman.
Kean was a key backer of Beaumont’s bid. The FRU seconded Beaumont’s nomination, and it has been widely rumoured that Beaumont intended to elevate Kean to his vice-chairman if re-elected to the top job.
World Rugby was quick to point out that the Fiji Rugby Union – not Kean himself – had nominated Beaumont, and made a strong statement speaking out against homophobia in the sport.
But the links between Beaumont and Kean will almost certainly damage the Englishman’s chances of victory in the election, with results to be released on 12 May.
Even worse, the fact that Kean was nominated by France’s Rugby Union for a place on the executive committee in the current elections has raised serious questions over the body’s vetting processes – including a potential breach of the International Olympic Committee’s code of ethics.
The Daily Mail has revealed that Pacific Rugby Players Welfare chief executive Daniel Leo, an ex-Samoa skipper, is considering writing to the International Olympic Committee to ask for rugby to be suspended from the Olympics.
Leo is calling for an investigation into Kean and the unions which supported his nomination, as well as stronger vetting processes to avoid a similar situation.
‘We are taking advice from our lawyers about a letter we are drafting,’ Leo told the Mail.
‘I’m disappointed that World Rugby haven’t launched an open investigation into Kean and France for nominating him.
‘If World Rugby don’t commit to governance reforms, our next letter will be to the International Olympic Committee, asking that they consider suspending rugby as an Olympic sport until they are fully compliant with IOC obligations.
‘If it takes some short-term pain, i.e. being blocked from the Olympics, then so be it. But hopefully the sport can be proactive in this before that would happen. We have to push through now and make sure the lessons are learned and, most importantly, acted upon.’