NO ONE expected the sporting void to be filled by the blazers, but here we are.
orld Rugby are co-ordinating the effort to find fixture solutions for the post-pandemic world, but in the meantime they’re treating us to a battle for power between competing visions for the sport.
Sure, it’s not Leinster v Saracens at the Aviva Stadium, but there is plenty to get stuck into as vice-chairman Agustin Pichot challenges chairman Bill Beaumont for the top job.
In the blue corner is the establishment figure. If you’re over 50 you’ll remember Beaumont as an England captain; for those around the 35-mark and he’s best known for skippering his ‘A Question of Sport’ team opposite Ian Botham.
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Even when he was choosing ‘Home or Away’ or pondering ‘What happened next’, the 68-year-old was climbing the administrative ladder. He was on the IRB board in 1999 and has stayed there since, ascending to the chairmanship in 2016.
An establishment figure, he promises evolution rather than revolution and is the strong favourite to earn another term thanks to the backing of the Six Nations.
His bid is seconded by Fiji who, in a strange twist, are represented on World Rugby’s executive by convicted killer Francis Kean.
That, perhaps, is a story for another day.
Meanwhile, in the red corner is the outspoken former Puma scrum-half.
Pichot is the kind of man who can wear a pair of garish white trainers with a suit and pull it off, a feat he achieves with great regularity. His eschewing of a tie points to a new style of rugby administrator, a man determined to shake up the old boys’ network and drag the sport into the 21st century.
Whether he backs up the image with actions is debatable, but he has managed to strike a major victory over the established nations in extending World Rugby’s controversial residency laws from three to five years.
Critics would argue that this change suited Argentina more than most, but most rational thinkers applauded the effort.
He is the chief force behind the ‘Nations Championship’ and is seen as being more club-friendly than Beaumont who is the quintessential union man.
Despite being a former team-mate of Beaumont, Clive Woodward has lent his vocal support to Pichot.
Beaumont has been irked by Woodward’s suggestion his age should matter, but there will be those within the game who are more disposed to a man who played in the professional era calling the shots.
While Pichot is on a solo run against his former ally, the Englishman has the backing of a shrewd running-mate in Bernard Laporte.
Although he caused problems for the ticket by calling for an annual Club World Cup, the former France coach and Minister for Sport is a proven vote-getter as the IRFU can attest after going into the 2023 World Cup bidding process in first place and coming out last as the French claimed the prize.
Laporte adds heft to Beaumont’s re-election bid, but the incumbent remains open to the accusation that the organisation has been slow to change on his watch.
And Pichot can take the credit for the change that was achieved.
Now, the Englishman is pledging to review rugby’s governance structures after he is elected, while he is open to revisiting the eligibility laws to allow players change allegiances, a move that would strengthen the Pacific Islands in particular.
Pichot, however, can justifiably ask why none of these things happened during his first term while arguing that rugby moves at a glacial pace.
To do so, he needs to win over the very unions he intends on weakening if elected when he tackles the archaic voting system that empowers top-tier nations over others.
Both men want to put in place a global season and due to the Covid-19 shutdown there is a rare opportunity to achieve that goal.
On May 12, we will find out who will map out the vision for the future.
The meeting is not quite the stuff of pay-per-view, but the result will have big ramifications for the sport.