OPINION | Why SA Rugby must throw their weight behind Pichot in race for World Rugby top job

SA Rugby does not have a nominee for the two top positions but president Mark Alexander has a shot at the powerful executive committee.

22 April 2020 - 16:10 By Liam Del Carme
SA Rugby President Mark Alexander is being urged by the writer to throw his weight behind the Augustin Pichot camp.
SA Rugby President Mark Alexander is being urged by the writer to throw his weight behind the Augustin Pichot camp.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

SA Rugby have been playing their cards close to their chest in the lead up to the much anticipated World Rugby elections next week.

The game’s top brass go to the polls‚ online at least‚ in a secret ballot to decide its chairman‚ deputy chairman and members that will sit on its elite executive committee with results due to be announced on the 12th of next month.

SA Rugby does not have a nominee for the two top positions but president Mark Alexander has a shot at the powerful executive committee.

The election comes not so much with the game at a crossroads‚ as a spaghetti junction.

On the face of it the respective manifestos of incumbent chairman Bill Beaumont and his challenger Agustin Pichot aren’t dramatically different. Where they will differ is how they set their priorities.

Ultimately though‚ their battle is for the face of rugby.

Beaumont‚ a decorated former England and British and Irish Lions captain is a rugby blue blood.

He is part of an established order‚ a long-time member of the ‘Old Farts Club’ as erstwhile England captain Will Carling once described the gentlemen in stuffy high office.

Recognising that time’s up for the traditional way of doing things‚ Beaumont has embraced change‚ but at a pace agreeable to 68-year-olds.

In stark contrast to the lumbering ex second rowert‚ Pichot for 13 years was an all action‚ plotting‚ scheming operator behind the Los Pumas scrum.

As a player‚ the now 45-year-old was a bit of a maverick‚ if not agent provocateur‚ and as administrator he has operated with the same pluck‚ desperate to disrupt and throw the established order off its axis.

Instead of further entrenching the game’s power brokers‚ Pichot has been campaigning on a ticket of change.

He wants to revise the way the game is governed‚ radically alter its international calendar so that it is more aligned with the hemispheres‚ tighten eligibility regulations‚ as well as interrogate the game’s more burdensome laws.

He is up against it‚ however.

Not since the sport officially turned professional in 1996 and World Rugby’s (former International Rugby Board) top brass were elected to their positions has an official from the southern hemisphere been chairman.

That is partly due to the fact that the game is still run by Europeans‚ particularly founder members and so called Home Unions Ireland‚ Scotland‚ Wales‚ as well as England.

Membership to rugby’s top table is loosely based on when IRB membership was granted‚ with those in the elite getting three votes. It means a disproportionate number of 22‚ of the 51 available votes‚ are in European hands.

It will be in SA Rugby’s interest to recall how the voting system conspired against South Africa in their failed bids for the 2011‚ 2019 and 2023 Rugby World Cups.

In the end the carefully crafted bid book South Africa compiled for 2023 carried as much weight as a season ticket to Newlands next year.

Australia have already nailed their colours to Pichot’s mast.

Their Sanzaar partners New Zealand and South Africa have been tight-lipped and cagey‚ and have nominated each other for representation on the executive committee.

They have less reason to hide in the shadows now that Beaumont ally‚ Fiji’s controversial rugby boss Francis Kean‚ has had to pull out of the race for a seat on the Exco.

Kean was one of the eight nominees for the seven available spots but a brewing scandal has forced his hand.

That should strengthen Sanzaar’s hand and they may well find it an opportune moment to build a wider alliance and break with conventional voting patterns that have almost always gravitated to the magnetic allure of the north.


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