Why the IRB dumped Bill Beaumont Underline 15 December, 2011
Bernard Lapasset see's off Bill Beaumont for the IRB Chairmanship.
France’s Bernard Lapasset was re-elected chairman of the International Rugby Board by a 14 – 12 vote over former vice-chairman, England’s Bill Beaumont, at a meeting in Los Angeles on Monday, according to details of the official media release.

South Africa’s Oregan Hoskins (SARU president) was elected vice-chairman after defeating Beaumont on the chairman’s casting vote after two rounds resulted in a tied vote of 13-13.

To re-work an old joke, media releases are like bikinis: what they reveal is interesting but what they conceal is vital.

In terms of the IRB, the superficial information is that the chairman has been re-elected and a new vice-chairman has been elected.

The real information is that for the first time since the IRB was formed in 1886, neither its chairman nor its vice-chairman is a delegate from the so-called, formerly all-powerful Home Unions (England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland).

A profound shift in the power axis of world rugby is taking place. That axis is moving away from the Home Unions and moving inexorably towards France, the SANZAR unions and the developing second-tier unions.

The Los Angeles meeting and its decisions represent an historic change in the power structure of world rugby. We are looking at the end of the Home Unions exercising their iron control over the IRB to benefit their own unions at the expense of the health and dynamism of the game worldwide.

There have been many examples of this closed-shop mentality, starting with the creation of the IRB (then called the International Rugby Football Board).

The board was formed by the Irish, Scottish and Welsh unions in 1886 to give them more representation in the running of the game against the English union, the so-called Rugby Football Union.

The RFU resented any challenge to its control over the laws of the game, and to its general administration. When England finally did join in 1890, it was on its terms. The RFU had six seats on the board and the other Home Unions had only two each.

England’s seats were reduced to two in 1948 when Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were given direct representation of a seat (increased to two in 1958) on the board. France was allowed representation as late as 1978.

It is fair to say that England’s domination of the IRB has impeded the development of rugby as a worldwide sport. I will give three examples.

The IRB killed off the practice in Yorkshire and Lancashire of allowing the wages of players (many of them coal miners) to be paid after they were injured playing rugby. This act of stupidity, with its class obsession, resulted in the creation of the rugby league code.

If rugby union had allowed partial professionalism and the use of competitions (also banned by the RFU in England), rugby rather than soccer would have emerged in the 20th century as the worldwide football game.

In 1924 the IRB organised a special conference to legislate for rugby to be an English-speakers game. This was designed to get France out of rugby. The initiative failed, but only because the South African delegate pointed out that the main language of the majority of rugby players in his country was not English but Afrikaans.

In the 1980s the ARU’s Sir Nicholas Shehadie and the NZRU’s Dick Littlejohn could not even get a meeting with Home Union officials to discuss the concept of a Rugby World Cup tournament. In the end, the NZRU and the ARU went ahead with the project themselves and carried all the monetary risks of the tournament in 1987.

This provides the background to the politics behind Bill Beaumont’s bid to become the chairman and the inside story on how his attempt to turn back the clock to the hegemony of the Home Unions was defeated.

Beaumont was one of England’s greatest forwards, a second-rower who captained England and the British and Irish Lions. After his rugby career, he became a successful businessman. He has been deeply involved with the RFU and the IRB.

As a person he is gruff, laconic, dogmatic and ambitious. At the one meeting I had with him, when he was with an IRB delegation meeting Australian rugby writers, he told me he was opposed to most of the ELVs innovations, especially those relating to the maul. This explains why the RFU vetoed many of the best ELVs ideas, including the dispensation to pull down the rolling maul (which is the only real defence against the maul).

It is not the usual practice for the sitting chairman of the IRB to be challenged. Beaumont broke this precedent. He told the media that Lapasset had done a deal with him for Beaumont to take over in 2011. Lapasset denied this.

Beaumont also told the media that he was running as a candidate who wanted the governance of world rugby changed in favour of the international aspect of the game, rather than the former closed shop Home Unions system practised under previous chairmen Vernon Pugh (Wales) and Syd Millar (Ireland).

Beaumont argued, bizarrely in my opinion given his background, that Lapasset was the traditionalist and that he was ‘committed to change’.

Before the vote, the Beaumont camp leaked to the media that the NZRU and ARU both supported him as an agent of change.

The rugby media, especially the New Zealand media (which is generally uninformed on rugby politics), accepted this.

The Beaumont line made no sense. His home union, the RFU, is national in its outlook, not international. And it was Lapasset who successfully pushed for rugby to be an Olympic sport. My understanding is that his vice-chairman at the time, Beaumont, was less than enthusiastic about the innitiative.

The NZRU supported the Beaumont push, not because of its ‘change’ potential, but because Beaumont promised to use his voting support to get former All Blacks captain Graham Mourie up as the new vice-chairman. He offered the NZRU, in other words, a Beaumont-Mourie ticket.

The attractiveness of the ticket and the possibility of winning the chairman’s job in due course was the real reason for the NZRU’s support of Beaumont.

The ARU was never a Beaumont supporter, despite newspaper reports that it was. The ARU never believed the Beaumont pitch.

Nor did the Asian authorities, who selected as their delegate to the Los Angeles IRB meeting Japan’s Koji Tokumasi, a Lapasset supporter. Hong Kong’s Trevor Gregory, a previous delegate and a Beaumont supporter, was ditched.

The same switch was done, too, by the North American/Caribbean unions when the Canadian Pearce Higgins (a Beaumont supporter) was replaced by the American Bob Latham (a Lapasset supporter).

This last switch is significant because it exposes the hollowness of the Beaumont line. RugbyUSA has a strong link with the NZRU. But it supported the candidate the NZRU did not back. Why? Because Rugby USA was grateful for Lapasset’s work in ensuring that rugby became an Olympic sport.

This change means that rugby will get access to significant funding from the USA Olympic authorities, especially for its RugbySevens program.

So when the voting for the IRB chairman began at Los Angeles, the contests for the delegates to vote on were (apparently) between Lapasset v Beaumont for the chairman, and Mourie v Hoskins for the vice-chairman.

Much to the consternation of Beaumont, Lapasset was re-appointed 14 -12 on the first vote.

When it came to the vote for the vice-chairman, Beaumont showed his true colours by ditching his deal with the NZRU and Mourie and announcing that he was nominating now to retain his position.

The NZRU allowed Mourie to withdraw his nomination (not a smart move, in my opinion) and gave its support to Beaumont. The New Zealand rugby media, again showing its invincible ignorance on rugby politics, reported that Mourie was actually defeated in the contest, even though he had withdrawn from it.

The vote between Beaumont and Hoskins was 13-13. Why the difference with the vote for the chairman’s position? The Asian delegate apparently was heavied, to the point where he was visibly upset, by officials from the Hong Kong union to support Beaumont over the South African Hoskins.

Lapasset then intervened and gave the chairman’s casting vote to Hoskins.

This completed the rout against Beaumont. But there was a further blow in store for the Home Union powerbrokers.

Beaumont, as the RFU representative, stayed on this powerful IRB executive commitee, at least until early next year when the RFU selects its IRB delegates for the new four-year term.

The other members of the committee are Lapasset, Hoskins, Mike Miller (CEO of the IRB), Tatsuzo Yabe (Japan), Giancarlo Dondi (Italy), Peter McGrath (Australia), Peter Doyle (Ireland), Graham Mourie (New Zealand) and Bob Latham (North America Caribbean Rugby Association).

Dropped from the executive committee is David Pickering. This demotion is as significant for the future of the IRB and its dedication to make rugby a world game as the defeat of Beaumont.

David Pickering is a former captain of Wales and is currently chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union. Despite this allegiance, Pickering was made chairman of the influential IRB committee that selected the referees for each match of the RWC 2011. In my view and virtually everyone who thought through the issue, this was a totally unacceptable conflict of interest.

But it is a mark of the arrogance of the Home Unions in relation to their powers within the IRB that Pickering allowed himself to be given this chairmanship. Moreover, officials from Samoa (particularly) but other unions and many journalists during RWC 2011 were angered over what they perceived to be the somewhat convenient (for Wales) allocation of referees throughout the tournament.

Apparently neither Beaumont nor Pickering (who like Beaumont sees himself as a future IRB chairman) took their demotions with very much grace. They were clearly angry and made threats to some of the delegates about the future of Lions tours to their countries if the trend against Home Union dominance of the IRB continues.

To wrap this long and complicated story, it is necessary to make a couple of further points. NZRU CEO Steve Tew exposed the shallowness of the Beaumont line that he was the only real agent for change by expressing the view that he is ‘unfazed’ by the re-election of Lapasset, who had his ‘full support’.

Tew argued that with two developing countries (Japan and the USA) on the IRB executive committee for the first time, there is ‘definitely a change in the wind’.

Finally, it is my contention that the IRB needs to have a chairman, sooner rather than later, who comes from a southern hemisphere union. Virtually all the best ideas and practice about the management, the laws and expansion of rugby have come from the SANZAR countries.

In this respect, the appointment of Hoskins as vice-chairman is a great leap forward and is as significant as the appointment of the Frenchman Lapasset as chairman was four years ago. 

Article by Spiro Zavos and published courtesy of
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