Beaumont gets four more years

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont. Photo: REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Daniel SchofieldTelegraph Media Group Limited

Bill Beaumont has promised to deliver "progressive, meaningful and sustainable change" after holding off the challenge of Agustin Pichot to be re-elected as World Rugby chairman.

The former England captain won by a margin of 28-23 in the vote of the World Rugby Council. Pichot's camp believe the balance of power was held by Japan and Rugby Africa, but both votes went the way of Beaumont, who will serve another four years. Bernard Laporte, the French Rugby Federation president who is understood to have been highly influential in locking up votes, has been elected as vice-chairman.

Beaumont was an odds on-favourite having already secured 20 votes with the backing of the Six Nations countries, who have three votes each, as well as Rugby Europe. However, Pichot, Beaumont's former vice-chairman, ran an energetic campaign after entering the race at the 11th hour. As well as securing the support of South American countries, the former Argentina scrumhalf won over the southern-hemisphere heavyweights of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as Georgia, Uruguay and USA.

Crucially, however, he failed to gain the backing of Samoa and Fiji despite promising to reform the voting structure that only allows them one vote each. Instead the Pacific Island countries stayed behind Beaumont who says he will look at revising eligibility rules so players are not locked to a single country. Beaumont's campaign was mired in controversy when it emerged that the the chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union, which had seconded his nomination, was a convicted killer.

Pichot, who had hinted that he would walk away from rugby if he was not elected, last night tweeted, "Congratulations Bill. Not this time, thanks to all for the support from the bottom of my heart."

Both Beaumont and Pichot had made a similar set of promises including aligning the northern and southern hemisphere in a global calendar, introducing governance reform and reviving the Nations Championship proposal which was sunk last year by opposition from the Six Nations.

Yet in style and perception a radical difference emerged between Beaumont, 68, and Pichot, 45, who vowed to shake up the "old boys club". In much of the narrative, it was framed as a choice between Beaumont, the protector of the ancien regime, and Pichot, the revolutionary. Beaumont, who was first election chairman in 2016, resented that image.

"Over the last four years we have achieved a lot, but we are at half-time and need to press on in the second half," said Beaumont yesterday. "I have a clear mandate to work with Bernard to implement progressive, meaningful and sustainable change."

Beaumont must also act to heal the rift which has opened between the Six Nations and the Sanzaar countries who were furious at the collapse of the Nations Championship last year. Yet before he can deliver any change, Beaumont's first priority will be to mitigate the widespread damage caused by the coronavirus lockdown. The Rugby Football Union estimates it will lose £50m while the United States Rugby Union has already filed for bankruptcy.

"Now is not the time for celebration," Beaumont added. "We have work to do. We are tackling Covid-19 and must implement an appropriate return-to-rugby strategy that prioritises player welfare, while optimising any opportunity to return to international rugby this year in full collaboration with club competitions for the good of players, fans and the overall financial health of the sport."