The International Rugby Board - Who runs the show?
29 November, 2011
|Bernie and Billy - IRB colleagues and rivals. |
In less than three weeks time the people who control World Rugby may well have a new boss. On 12 December, in Los Angeles, those individuals that make such decisions meet to vote on whether the reign of Bernard Lapassat continues or if he is to be dethroned by Billy Beaumont the former Lions and England captain. A meeting in New Zealand during the World Cup was rescheduled to this date when no positive outcome was apparent, and the voting delegates did not want their internal squabbling to detract from the 'on pitch' activities. It also gave them more time for lobbying and 'horse-trading'.
What's at stake? Well apart from the obvious - the most important post in World Rugby; it will also determine the direction that the development of the game will take. Bill Beaumont wants to see things shaken up, Bernard Lapassat, more of the 'status quo'. The voting delegates are currently split down the middle, with a single vote one way or the other deciding the outcome, thus the lobbying.
The voting system, to an outsider at least, may seem bizarre and undemocratic. It basically works as follows:
- Each of the 8 founding members of the IRB, the Tier 1 nations have 2 votes - thus 16 in total.
- The other 10 votes are shared between four nations and six regional delegates representing Europe, Oceania (Fiji, Samoa, Tonga etc) - with a Samoan representing them, Asia Africa, North America and South America.
- Four individual Tier 1-2 nations have a single vote - Japan, Italy, Canada and Argentina.
Not surprisingly therefore, with the contest evenly split, everyone wishes to see their own individual interests heard. Funding and a share of the IRB hand-outs is at the centre of all discussions along with the way the RWC is scheduled, both its window period and the pool matches where Tier 2 nations see themselves harshly treated; having to play more matches in a set period of time, as compared to the top eight qualifiers who, more often than not, are Tier 1 nations. This is something the IRB have already promised to look at.
So who are the key players on the IRB council, that will decide whether the current Chairman is ousted by his Vice-Chairman of four years and, if rumour is to believed, had offered to step down in favour of the latter after the end of his tenure in May 2012? His wish to continue has only added fuel to the fire.
Of the eight nations holding two votes each, there is a mix of ex-Internationals and professional committee men, not least, the soon not to be stand-in CEO of the RFU, Martyn Thomas. The RFU, that bastion of rugby elitism, that is now meant to be organising the 2015 RWC, while trying to put its own house in order. Mr Beaumont happens to be on their management board, so no conflict of interests here! Others with a say are, Gerald Davies, rugby legend, but now like all good Welshmen, a committee man, but still with a sense of reasoning - "Gentlemen, take a look at yourselves, this is not the way to behave." A quote, attributed to Davies, taken from that aborted October meeting. You will also find John Spencer, a true blue in every sense of the word having represented Sedburgh Public School (a school not short of producing a few England players), Cambridge University then England: John Jeffrey the ex-Scottish back-rower and former All Black captain Graham Mourie; of the professional committee men’ John O'Neill of Australia and Steve Tew of New Zealand have never hesitated to express their own opinion.
Now to those one vote holding countries. Names of their delegates may be unfamiliar, but often they have persuasive influence over their associate continent counter-parts; thus Asia follows Japan; North America, Canada; and South America, Argentina. They all have vested interests to tow the line, a mandate, for want of a better word. On Sunday in Laos , the Asians meet and delegated Japanese Koji Tokumasu, in favour of the pro Beaumont, Hong Kong based Trevor Gregory - one up to Mr Lapasset. North America has, since that raucous October meeting in Auckland, gone to Bob Latham, of the U.S.A, also a Lapasset man, rather than towing the Canadian orientated Beaumont line.
Some two weeks away from D-Day, and things seem to favour a continuation of the old regime. As things stand, Bill Beaumont can count on eight votes from the 4 'Home Nations', plus 2 from N.Z. and another from Canada: 11 in total. Bernard Lapasset's corner includes France (of course) - 2, Italy - 1, South Africa - 2 and Australia – 2. So seven votes so far. Add the two from Japan/Asia, and Argentina – 1 (by way of a thank you for the 4 Nations Cup) he's up to 10. Given the Associate South and North American delegates vote as expected, that's 12. So who's left? Europe, where Georgia, Romania and Russia, (RWC 2023?) hold sway, plus Africa and the Oceania. Africa can be expected to tow the line in the direction of Lapasset and Europe towards Beaumont.
So in total that makes it 12 votes to 13 in favour of the man currently in charge, with Oceania yet to make up its mind. Remember there has to be a definitive result, unlike Auckland where the Chairman's vote deferred things at 13 all, to a later date.
Oceania, sounds like something from a George Orwell novel, 1984, but in fact consists of that scattering of volcanic islands in the Mid-Pacific that call themselves Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, Cooks Island, Niue etc. The former three have all been to three or more World Cups and are ranked in the top 16, but get only a single vote between them. Democracy? Without them the RWC as we know it, would not function. No TONGA v FRANCE (2011), FIJI v WALES (2007) results. So who carries their vote? As it stands, a certain Harry Schuster, who "controls" Samoan rugby and came under heavy criticism from the Manu Samoa 2011 RWC squad (and in particular it’s captain Mahonri Schwalger) for his behaviour off the field. Don't expect him to consult his fellow Islander nations. He is a law unto himself.
In Los Angeles, chosen as it one flight away for all delegates, the secret ballot voting will continue until there is an overall majority for one of the two candidates, very democratic, except for the way the votes are distributed.
Then what? The IRB needs to get its house in order, not only in how it works internally, but also the development of rugby, universally, financially as well as the game itself. The whole system of the rules and how the officials interpret them, need to be reviewed. Rugby World Cup 2011 spent too much time discussing off the field issues and refereeing decisions rather than the game itself. A turn-off for spectators, sponsors and television companies that buy the rights to distribute the event world-wide. Without an accord, the world of rugby as we know will slide into decline. No-one will be willing to back a non-profit making sport, when there are others vying to take its place.
Marc Thompson @rugbymarc.com