hen the day-glo-jumpered Bill Beaumont was a team captain on the quiz show that raised ubiquitous inanity to a televisual art form in the 1980s (and bafflingly still does), it was his responsibility to choose the more difficult option in the ‘home or away’ round.
His two fellow team members, it was assumed, would answer questions on their own sport, which often seemed more thrilling the more obscure the sport was – a footballer would obviously know who won the 1984 FA Cup but the audience would be take aback if a showjumper breezily named the winning rider at that year’s Olympia Puissance.
Beaumont, however, felt duty-bound as captain to opt for the difficult ‘away’ question, which was worth double; the audience would really be taken aback if he breezily named the winning rider at that year’s Olympia Puissance.
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The former England rugby lock knew how to play the game. Always did.
For the audience, going ‘away’ seemed symbolic, a positively Churchillian (steady on!) shift by a brave leader, far from the comfort zone into the wide unknown where anything – probably a question about curling – lurked in the darkest undergrowth ready to trip you up.
Rugby, more vulnerable than most sports, needs this version of Bill Beaumont now more than at any other time in its short history.
As this pandemic era unravels established threads of economic and social trends, global sport cannot hope to remain untouched either as we patiently wait for the invisible tectonic plates of viral destruction to cease their menacing movement.
Society seems to be steeling itself to change post-pandemic, even if so many view this as anything other than pie-eyed idealism.
Rugby is making similar noises and these promises of Damascene conversion are even less convincing.
How can they be, when, in the time of its gravest crisis, rugby has decided not to embark upon a course of committed, radical change but has instead opted for limp-wristed, cautious conservatism?
Beaumont (above) may be the titular head of this collective refusal to confront rugby’s frightening future but he could yet become its most potent figure of potential renewal.
However, he begins from a rather unpromising position; his victory over Agustin Pichot in the recent election of a chairman may have been inevitable but the narrow margin reveals that at a time when the game needs to be more united than ever before, it has not been as divided since 1995.
The split is on familiar grounds – north versus south, club v country – but there are also fissures based on inequality.
The decisions of Fiji and Samoa to get into bed with an old guard which has never curried either their interest or favour adds a frisson of uneasy intrigue to the whole affair.
It remains to be seen why these two countries, who have been so neglected by the established elite (including those perennial hand-sitters in the IRFU), not to mention being exploited by the Antipodean giants who had the temerity to then carp at their vote-hopping, decided to pitch in with Beaumont, rather than Pichot, a more obvious ally.
And then what are we to make of World Rugby’s new 12-person Executive Committee? That there are more men named ‘Brett’ on the committee than women of any name does nothing to advance the argument that World Rugby is capable of shedding its sheepskin jacket of neat conformity.
An immediate investigation into World Rugby’s corporate governance, announced within hours of Beaumont’s re-election, suggests alarm that such a committee could ever be deemed appropriate in 2020.
In reality, it confirms the lazy inertia which has existed since… well, since the last time Beaumont was elected chairman. His weekend comments do not imply crusade, rather they amplify caution, maintaining a cosy consensus which rebuffs any attempt to bridge the financial gap between north and south, not to mention the competitive cleavage between the established elite and nascent nations.
The skewed voting rights reflect this imbalance; so too the Executive Committee which has not only a gender imbalance but a geographical one too. Perhaps rugby gets the leadership it deserves. Rugby rarely cohered in times of opportunity so why should crisis change its habits?
When being apart requires strength together, rugby’s recurring weaknesses will continue to drive a wedge deeper between its factions.
Hardly a world in union. And a question of sport which will become ever more intractable to solve.