Agustin Pichot is the self-appointed revolutionary that must lead rugby into a new world of no return.
Pichot represents the future as much as incumbent World Rugby Chair Bill Beaumont represents the past.
One is 45 and the other is 68 years-old.
One is a pillar for the continuation of rugby’s ‘Old Boy’ club and the other detests everything about an ‘old boys’ club that speaks only to an elite handful of rugby-playing nations.
Pichot, for the past four years, has served as Beaumont’s deputy. He did this, he said, to conquer from within. He felt he had to see first-hand the inner workings of World Rugby’s administration to be able to break down the walls and reduce rugby’s historical administration to rubble.
Pichot lives in a modern world whereas Beaumont is comforted by rugby’s dated and traditional world.
Beaumont, a former England and British & Irish Lions captain, believes in the evolution of the game, but rugby can’t grow rapidly and robustly without a revolution.
The old ways must finally be crushed. If not now, then when?
It is a question Pichot has asked in his pre-election campaign. He has sold his vision of an all-inclusive rugby world, in which leadership decisions must benefit rugby and not protect a select few.
Pichot has often spoken of his distaste for the politics in world rugby’s administration and the kind of bartering and underhanded dealing which saw South Africa lose the 2023 World Cup hosting rights in an election, despite World Rugby’s Independent Business Review endorsing South Africa’s bid as stronger than France and Ireland’s.
Beaumont is absolute in protecting the old school practice, even if he claims to have been the driver of greater female representation in the game’s administration and the champion of the women’s game.
Beaumont has also shown his ‘old school’ colours in naming France’s Bernard Laporte as his deputy candidate. Pichot is the current second in command and he has chosen not to align his bid to be the chair with any supporting act.
Laporte is unopposed for the Vice Chair role, which already is the reddest of flags.
Laporte is also the master of manipulation and, armed with apparent limitless funding from the French government and global businesses connections, will use the persuasive power of money to muzzle those daring to whisper support of Pichot.
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward, in a column for the Daily Mail, pleaded with world rugby’s administrators to let Pichot lead the game into a new dawn.
Woodward wrote that rugby governance needed radical change because of World Rugby politics he described as ‘outdated and immovable’.
Pichot agreed with Woodward and, responding to Woodward in an interview, said: ‘I remember when (former England captain) Will Carling spoke about the ‘old farts’ in 1995. The game has always been slow-paced with its thinking. And having spent most of my career complaining about World Rugby’s unfair system, I thought it was my responsibility to take on the challenge and change it.’
Pichot is the popular vote among players, coaches and critics, but there is no guarantee that this popularity will have an influence on the outcome of the election.
The respected veteran Guardian Newspaper rugby writer Robert Kitson mocked the process of an electronic vote later today (Sunday), with the results only being confirmed two weeks later.
‘Why the delay?’ asked Kitson. ‘That the vote will be conducted by private ballot and the result not announced until 12 May says a fair amount about World Rugby’s modus operandi. With the established nations permitted three votes while everyone else has to settle for two or one, this particular group of turkeys are not about to vote for Christmas. Self-interest, as it has done for decades, shapes virtually everything.’
Pichot has been defiant this week and spoken only of success. There has been no talk of surrender. For him, it is all or nothing. He doesn’t want to be anyone’s messenger and he wants to be the man who determines a very different World Rugby message.
Pichot has the backing of the Sanzaar nations Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, but he will need more than this alliance to be successful. Laporte, as he did with France’s 2023 World Cup bid, has been busy turning the single vote minorities in the north into a substantial and definitive collective.
Beaumont, according to several reports based on history and the north invariably voting as a block, has 21 confirmed votes to Pichot’s 19. The 11 remaining votes are a lottery.
Ironically, the power votes sit with the Pacific Islands, who traditionally have been treated with little respect and with even less interest from the traditional elite head table.
This past week saw a lot of politicking to shape an opinion from within the likes of Fiji and Samoa, and no one can say for certain who will get these votes.
Beaumont had Fiji’s Francis Kean, a convicted killer nominated by the Fiji Rugby Union for a seat on the international rugby body’s powerful executive. Media pressure this past week saw Kean removed as a World Rugby executive option because of his criminal record.
‘Politics has become involved and the mindset is very conservative,’ said Pichot. ‘People are afraid of the Six Nations and they don’t trust World Rugby. Everything is built on fragile terms because there is no collaborative thinking. There has never been a reset in rugby. I need to make the voters understand that I am not against the tradition of the game. I am against the game not evolving. Maybe there is no point in me calling some of the Six Nations unions, as they’ve already made up their mind.’
Pichot campaigned for a public vote to show transparency, but the ballot not surprisingly will be private.
‘I sent a note to every Six Nations country CEO and only Wales responded. I think that’s poor. Every CEO should be responsible for learning what is best for the game, even if they don’t support you.’
Pichot, brave and bullish, added that before Covid-19, rugby was ruled by the ‘haves’, with the ‘have nots’ making up the numbers.
‘What World Rugby’s individual nations’ leadership has to understand is that I am not trying to make an equal balance in the global game. It is not a Robin Hood story. I am not trying to take from the rich and give to the poor. We simply have to strive for a better society and the emerging nations need help.’