Iain Morrison: Sensationalist Pichot moving into position

A crowd of under 30,000 watched South Africa beat New Zealand. Pic: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images
A crowd of under 30,000 watched South Africa beat New Zealand. Pic: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images
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Hurricane Florence hit the east coast of the USA over the weekend causing floods and general mayhem. Except it didn’t, or at least it wasn’t as bad as had been feared. By the time that Florence struck it had been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm.

In similar fashion the vice chair of World Rugby Gus Pichot hit the headlines in spectacular fashion with his “12 months to rescue rugby” clarion call. This was swallowed whole by an adoring press. One paper wrote: “The sport will not disappear but the professional edifice might crumble.”

Really! In 12 months’ time? Professional rugby no more? All those English club owners, who finally sniff a return on their huge investments, are going to quit? Super Rugby gone? The Pro14 follows the Dodo into extinction? The French millionaires that fund the Top14 play boules instead? This is sensationalist tosh, especially when CVC Partners has just valued the English Premiership at around £550 million, which means they think it’s worth at least twice that much.

It might be worth filling in some background. Pichot’s term as vice chair of World Rugby comes to an end in May of 2020 but so too does that of chairman Bill Beaumont and it doesn’t take a cynic to suspect that the Argentine is positioning himself as the natural, the only, successor to Beaumont and if that makes him the saviour of world rugby, well, someone has to do it.

Beaumont was thought to be standing down after one four-year term but after Pichot’s outburst he may just be minded to run again. He is sweating blood trying to nail an equitable solution to the game’s varied problems behind the scenes and his thoughts, following his deputy’s verbal hand grenade, would be illuminating.

The Argentine may well have the best interests of the sport at heart but he hasn’t always acted with complete selflessness. You might not know the name Andrew Forrest but he is an Australian mining millionaire who was sore about the collapse of the Western Force. He is backing a rebel World Series Rugby competition in which the Western Force could continue to play. Australian Rugby is obviously alarmed at someone parking tanks on their lawn and the pair have exchanged words.

This summer Forrest appointed Pichot as the head of the South American branch of his Fortescue mining company, never mind that the Argentine’s expertise is in media not mining. Pichot comes from a wealthy family, he doesn’t need the money and it is difficult to argue that Forrest wanted him for his business acumen. Yet still he took a controversial position with an obvious conflict of interest, if the World Series ever gets off the ground, given his position at World Rugby.

Of course Pichot is right to highlight problems that face the game. The importance of player welfare in the professional era, the sad truth that the so called San Francisco accord on a global calendar was an unsatisfactory fudge and the fact that the most successful nation in the world New Zealand still runs a hefty annual deficit of around £3m. A mere 27,000 watched New Zealand v South Africa, just 16,000 at yesterday’s Australia-Argentina match.

However the international game in Europe remains in rude health and some sort of gate sharing exercise seems inevitable once the hard work is done behind closed doors.