Bill Beaumont reelected as World Rugby chairman in close vote

Reform-minded Agustin Pichot falls short in spirited challenge

AP, AFP-Jiji, Reuters

Former England captain Bill Beaumont will lead World Rugby for another four years after being reelected on Saturday, beating Agustin Pichot with a first-round majority.

The sport’s governing body said the 68-year-old Beaumont won by 28 votes to 23 against Pichot, the former Argentina scrumhalf who served as Beaumont's vice chairman since 2016.

Beaumont says he plans a progressive reform of governance, with an integrated approach to the global calendar; the prioritization of player welfare; an accelerated promotion of the women’s game; and giving smaller nations more matches against big nations.

"I am honored to accept the mandate of the World Rugby Council to serve as the international federation’s chairman once again," Beaumont said. "I would like to thank Gus for his friendship and support over the last four years. While we stood against each other in this campaign, we were aligned in many ways and I have the utmost respect for him.”

French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte — the former France coach — becomes Beaumont’s new vice chairman after running unopposed.

Laporte considers it important to unite the northern and southern hemispheres and all professional leagues "around a common objective to define a strong and lasting future.”

Beaumont begins his second term after a council meeting on May 12 and pledged to "serve for all” in the wider interests of rugby.

"We must be united in our drive to make this great sport even better, simpler, safer and more accessible," he said. "We must listen to players, fans, competitions, our unions and regions, and take decisions that are in the best interests of all with our strong values to the fore.”

Beaumont was a formidable lock as a player and captained England to the then-Five Nations Grand Slam title in 1980. He has proved a popular chairman with the game’s established powers.

"Bill is ideally placed to lead and unite rugby unions in strengthening the game so we can address the immediate and longer term challenges," Bill Sweeney, chief executive of England's Rugby Football Union, said of Beaumont's victory.

The 45-year-old Pichot was looking to become the first chairman from outside the Six Nations unions or leading southern hemisphere nations. He wanted to give the less-established rugby nations a bigger say at boardroom level, take the game to a younger audience and revive the Nations League proposal abandoned less than a year ago.

He was favored by the sport’s less-wealthy nations, his appeal perhaps heightened by weighty financial concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. Beaumont's thoughts turned immediately to helping rugby through a huge financial crisis following the pandemic outbreak.

In recent weeks he has overseen a $100 million relief package for the game. USA Rugby filed for bankruptcy in March and Rugby Australia said it was to lose around €69 million ($76.5 million) in revenue if the rest of its season was lost due to the outbreak.

"(We) must implement an appropriate return-to-rugby strategy that prioritizes player welfare, while optimizing any opportunity to return to international rugby this year," Beaumont said. "I am determined to ensure that the spirit of unity and solidarity that has characterized our work so far in response to an unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic, is the cornerstone of a new approach.”

Once the round of congratulations had ended, New Zealand Rugby, who had backed Pichot, weighed in to remind Beaumont of his global responsibilities.

"Gus ran a strong campaign and gave his best effort in a highly principled manner and that is all that can be asked, so we are proud of him," said New Zealand Rugby chief Brent Impey.

"There is still a level of governance reform that is overdue, and it would be good to see the courage taken to make the decisions needed to ensure the continued sustainability and success of rugby globally — not just for a limited number of Unions and regions."

Beaumont had a solid first term as chairman, with last year’s World Cup in Japan a huge success financially and in terms of attracting new fans. Japan embraced the tournament fully, making it one of the most festive and popular rugby has enjoyed.

"During this unprecedented and global COVID-19 crisis, we must act and unite unions from the north and south and the professional leagues around a common objective to define a strong and sustainable future for all," Beaumont said.

"We will pursue these reforms together and act in solidarity with the rugby family, to drive the game forward on and off the field, further the welfare of our players and make the sport more attractive and accessible."

Beaumont's nomination had been seconded by the Fiji Rugby Union, whose chairman Francis Kean was forced out of the World Rugby council following allegations of discriminatory conduct.

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