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Pichot hails emerging nations, global calendar as key for World Rugby's future

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Agustín Pichot and Bill Beaumont

Image credit: Eurosport

ByReuters
14/04/2020 at 12:00 | Updated 14/04/2020 at 13:00

Agustin Pichot has staked his bid to become chairman of World Rugby on a modern, more inclusive global game that gives emerging nations a greater voice in a major shake-up of the sport that reflects changing and challenging times.

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The former Argentina scrum-half, who is currently the organisation's vice-chairman, will challenge incumbent Bill Beaumont for the top job in next month's elections.

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He told Reuters he will push for a single rugby calendar as the only way forward for a sport that was nearing a crisis point even before the coronavirus pandemic.

Pichot had proposed the concept of a Nations League last year that would combine the northern hemisphere Six Nations, and the Rugby Championship in the global south, into a single competition that would also include so-called emerging countries.

But his plan was knocked back, leaving him "frustrated" at what he perceived to be the slow realisation at the top of World Rugby that there is a desperate need to evolve the sport.

"The game already had a crisis, not only about the alignment of the calendar, but also not having an efficient management," Pichot said in an interview via Skype.

"In January, we decided, with a lot of nations, to challenge the status quo. We thought things would be under big pressure (this year), and two months later, coronavirus hits the world and we thought, 'now is the time'."

Speaking from Buenos Aires, Pichot said the coronavirus pandemic meant World Rugby must immediately accelerate plans to reform the sport.

"I want a global game, I want more direct investment. With this crisis now, it is obvious we have to take care of not just the emerging nations, but also the established ones as well. It is a crucial moment to start reshaping the game."

Key to that investment, he said, was creating a more attractive product for broadcasters and sponsors in an environment where there will potentially be a fight between sports for dwindling financial resources.

"You have a Rugby World Cup every four years, but it is what you do in between that is the key issue.

"You need to bring meaningful test matches. If it is two championships linked into one, then it has to be that way. But it cannot be where you just have friendlies (in July and November) with no meaning. It doesn’t work, that is an old way of looking at things."

Pichot said Luxembourg-based private equity group CVC Capital Partners, who have invested in the English Premiership and are looking to take a stake in the Six Nations, share his vision.

"CVC, who came into Six Nations, can tell you the same thing. They want an organised (global) calendar.

"If it is with SANZAAR included, much better, because you combine the income of those two hemispheres, plus bring new markets. It is not rocket science, it is very easy to know it means more income."

Pichot also wants to give smaller unions a bigger say in the running of the game and a greater share of the revenues.

Currently the top nations have three times more votes on the World Rugby Council and therefore a greater say in the path rugby takes.

"Everyone should have an equal vote in a democratic way, that is how you create an equal game."

He said he was glad at the level of support he had received since announcing he would stand against Beaumont.

"I’m surprised at how much people want change. Even the ones that are probably more conservative. They want change, but organised change.

"Maybe from some there is the feeling, 'Oh, Gus wants a revolution, he is Latin, he is temperamental'. I don't see it that way. Change always has to be organised. Change for the sake of change is empty. I want a global vision, that is what I have been fighting for."

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