Thursday 18 January 2018

World Rugby can't quite put an end to dark arts of the secret ballot

Seemingly, World Rugby think that secrecy is the best friend of independence. (stock image)
Seemingly, World Rugby think that secrecy is the best friend of independence. (stock image)
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

It was hard to avoid the 'T' word in the build-up to last week's RWC presentations. As part of the need for 'transparency' the whole process around settling on a bid to recommend to the voters had been ramped up.

Back in 2009, World Rugby (WR) had recommended to its council that England should get the tournament in 2015, followed by Japan in 2019. This time an outside agency has been hired to put a formula on exactly how the fairest scoring system could be employed. In the interests of transparency.

So, for the next month this process will be played out. Then, on October 31, WR will announce a recommended bidder, or perhaps they might say it's a three-way tie, which wouldn't be very helpful.

On November 15 the council will convene, again in London, and - WR hopes - follow its lead. So why after all this investment of time and effort in putting the system together, will those same council members not be asked to stand over their votes? Rather they will take part in a secret ballot.

You can check out a variety of definitions of a secret ballot. The following, for example, can be found in the Business Dictionary: A method of voting that ensures that all votes are cast in secret, so that the voter is not influenced by any other individual, and at the time of voting no one else knows who the voter chose.

The idea that a vote in secret is a vote free of influence is as close to reality as the president of the United States is to leading the free world.

It is hardly fanciful to imagine a situation where a rugby nation might indicate loyalty to one of the bidders, only for that position to change on the back of a better offer from someone else. In that case, to be able to cast your vote in secret would be the very essence of convenience.

Back in 2005, when WR (or the IRB as they were known then) were conducting the contest to see who would host the 2011 World Cup, it got ugly after Ireland's Noel Murphy suggested that the secrecy of the ballot extend to keeping the actual tallies under wraps. So when doing the sums at the end of the first round, after which the worst-performing of the three bidders would be ditched, no one would know just how close a call it had been, if indeed it had been close at all.

The motion was passed unanimously; the South Africans bombed with just four votes; and from that they inferred that Ireland had been covering their tracks. They had no evidence for this. Murphy's rationale was that with all sorts of political heavyweights in the room, it would be best to spare the loser's blushes if indeed his/her country had just got their asses kicked.

Nevertheless, in the fall-out it dawned on the IRB that getting the process out in the open would be good for business. That's where the move to making a formal recommendation came from.

Still, however, they are stopping short of getting all the votes on the table. Seemingly, World Rugby think that secrecy is the best friend of independence.

"The entire Rugby World Cup host selection process was redesigned for 2023 in conjunction with the Sports Consultancy (a UK agency)," a WR spokesman told us last week. "It was agreed by all member unions, it is in line with international best practice for good governance as well as other major sporting events and has been clearly communicated from the outset."

If international best practice is what the lads in FIFA and the IOC get up to then it ain't what it's cracked up to be. And if good governance is what you're after, and you've just gone to the trouble of taking the process as far above board as possible, then having the actual votes cast under the table shows a lack of appetite for your stated objective. We don't suppose, in November, there will be a Murphyeseque character who suggests to all present that they change the procedure a wee bit. Maybe next time.

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