World Rugby: Bill Beaumont’s election pledges superseded by real life

Restarting game a long way off and ‘ghost matches’ don’t appeal

Bill Beaumont was re-elected as World Rugby chairman. Picture: Charly Triballeau/AFP
Bill Beaumont was re-elected as World Rugby chairman. Picture: Charly Triballeau/AFP

It may have made what was a rather dry, and in the current circumstances trivial, election to become World Rugby chairman as a kind of Harold Macmillan v Che Guevera contest but the truth was a lot less to get excited about.

Yes, incumbent Englishman Bill Beaumont, the victor by 28-23 votes, certainly including Scotland’s in the secret ballot, was the conservative option over the more radical Argentine Agustin Pichot, his former vice-chairman, but this was not a Romanovs v Bolsheviks clash.

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During the ridiculously convoluted two-week process to determine the next figurehead of rugby union’s global governing body you saw both candidates in some part, to the use the old political adage, “steal each other’s clothes”.

Beaumont, the 68-year-old former England and Lions captain who retired from playing a full decade before professionalism, vowed to continue exploring the option of a Nations League in that forever elusive re-shaped “global calendar” which has been rumbling on for years.

He said he wanted to raise the standard of tier-two Test competitions, even pledging to drop that term, to a point where, one day, the prospect of promotion/relegation from the Six Nations and southern hemisphere Rugby Championship is not viewed as “a doomsday scenario”.

In this election manifesto, though, he was clear that was off the table for now, as was the British and Irish Lions touring anywhere other than the traditional three of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

Pichot maintained his clear pitch for a bigger slice of the cake for developing and emerging unions across the globe, while stressing promotion/relegation from the big two international championships was just “a possibility”.

In the end, Beaumont prevailed and will serve on until 2024 but the mess that is global rugby, with the much-vaunted CVC media deal on hold and the club-international calendar still a dog’s breakfast, pales into insignificance with the global catastrophe that is unfolding.

At times of crisis the elite sporting world often pays lip service to its public duty but carries on as the cash rolls in. Now, they are starting to discover that we truly are “all in this together”.

Financial cracks had already been appearing before the pandemic, with even a powerhouse like Australia in trouble, but, while not at the astronomic levels of football, there is plenty of dosh floating around at the top end of rugby union. Jitters will now be kicking in, though. Welcome to the real world, guys.

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Still a bit of denial, though. Viewing a future of strict-social distancing slowly-phased easing of lockdown and the continuing restrictions on travel, the future is terribly uncertain. Again, welcome to the club.

A sense of denial appears to remain ingrained. Surely, sport can take place in some way at some point? Behind closed doors, strict testing etc.

Fine, that may be the way it goes. We’re all missing sport, as we are many things and it may be seen that playing these matches will provide some boost to national morale.

Though, if you have ever witnessed a behind-closed-doors game you will know what a dispiriting, soulless experience it is. The “novelty” of watching glorified training games against an eerie backdrop will soon wear off.

“Football without fans is nothing,” as Jock Stein famously said. The same could be said for top-level Test rugby. An Edinburgh game in front of 3,000 at Murayfield can be chilling enough.

But, perhaps, the show will go on somehow. We lovers of sport, and those of us who depend on it for our livings, curse this virus and yearn for it to be gone. But the signs are it won’t be for a while, until a reliable treatment and, vitally, a vaccine are developed.

These “ghost matches” would have to be taken under strict testing but, as we have learned, the tests are not 100 per cent accurate. All it would take is one of the players, officials, coaches or ancillary staff in attendance to develop symptoms and all would be in isolation.

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Also, would it not be unfair if highly-paid professional sportsmen were allowed to play on – hard to social distance in a scrum – while the rest of us remain unable to meet friends, mingle in the pub, dance at a nightclub, and grandparents can’t even hug their grandkids?

After Bill Beaumont savoured his win in the World Rugby election it can’t have been too long before he thought “what the hell do we do now?”

I say it again. Join the club.

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