Agustin Pichot: 'Now is the time' to change rugby's future

Former Argentina scrum-half will challenge incumbent Bill Beaumont for the top job in next month's elections

FILE PHOTO: Agustin Pichot, IRB World Rugby vice-president and former Argentina captain, speaks to Reuters in an interview in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci/File Photo
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Agustin Pichot has staked his bid to become chairman of World Rugby on a more inclusive global game that gives emerging nations a greater voice in a major shake-up of the sport that reflects changing and challenging times.

The dashing former Argentina scrum-half, who is currently the organisation's vice-chairman, will challenge incumbent Bill Beaumont for the top job in next month's elections.

Pichot, 45, is riding on a ticket to give smaller nations a much bigger voice on the direction for a sport that was nearing a crisis point even before the coronavirus pandemic.

Seen as something of a maverick to Beaumont’s ‘establishment’ figure, Pichot last year saw his proposals knocked back for a Nations League that would combine the northern hemisphere Six Nations, and the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship into a single global competition that would also include so-called emerging countries.

"The game already had a crisis, not only about the alignment of the calendar, but also not having an efficient management," Pichot said in an interview with Reuters.

"In January, we decided, with a lot of nations, to challenge the status quo. We thought things would be under big pressure [this year], and two months later, coronavirus hits the world and we thought, 'now is the time'."

While acknowledging the chaos the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the sport, with several national bodies facing financial ruin, the former Bristol player sees it as a chance to reform a world governing body often accused of ring fencing the interests of the wealthier nations.

"I want a global game, I want more direct investment. With this crisis now, it is obvious we have to take care of not just the emerging nations, but also the established ones as well. It is a crucial moment to start reshaping the game."

Key to that investment, he said, was creating a more attractive product for broadcasters and sponsors in an environment where there will potentially be a fight between sports for dwindling financial resources.

"You have a Rugby World Cup every four years, but it is what you do in between that is the key issue. ”

Pichot also wants to give smaller unions a bigger say in the running of the game and a greater share of the revenues.

Currently the top nations have three times more votes on the World Rugby Council and therefore a greater say in the path rugby takes.

"Everyone should have an equal vote in a democratic way, that is how you create an equal game."

'Old guard'

Former England captain Beaumont, 68, has pledged an independent review of World Rugby's governance should he be re-elected as the global body's chairman next month.

"Our aim is to have a more representative and diverse international federation that better serves the game, not one that is seen to only support the 'old guard', " said Beaumont, who published his manifesto on Tuesday.

Beaumont, running on a ticket that has French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte standing for vice-president, added: "To achieve our aim of a strong international federation with a clear vision, we are proposing a wide-ranging governance review led by two independently appointed people."

The aim was to "bring in fresh ideas and perspective".

"For rugby to thrive we need for it to grow into a global sport and move beyond its traditional territories," Beaumont said.

"To achieve this we need a coherent and meaningful global calendar that supports those at the top of the game and develops those aspiring to be there," the former lock insisted.

The global outbreak of the coronavirus, which has led to the shutdown of most major sport worldwide, threatens to have a huge impact on rugby union as finances from international matches help subsidise all levels of the game.

Rugby Australia alone is forecasting losses of some $74 million if their entire season, which includes Tests against Ireland and Fiji in July, is wiped out.

Doubts also remain over whether lockdown restrictions imposed by national governments in response to the health threat posed by Covid-19 will have eased sufficiently for spectators to be allowed to attend the money-spinning November Tests in Europe.

"World Rugby needs to review its financial policies and not rely on those who have traditionally underpinned the game," said Beaumont, who labelled the coronavirus as "the greatest challenge rugby has faced in recent years".

The election is due to take place by electronic ballot on April 26, with the results announced on May 12.