By Sri Krishnamurthi, contributing editor of Pacific Media Watch
Pacific Nations could hold sway this weekend as the World Rugby vote for a chairman takes place between England’s Bill Beaumont and Agustín Pichot of Argentina, setting the tone for future development.
However, the vote has not been without controversy, especially where Fiji is concerned.
Fiji has been at the centre of attention after being forced to withdraw their nomination, Francis Kean, from World Rugby’s all-powerful executive committee.
His manslaughter conviction, allegations of homophobia while he was head of Fiji’s prison service, and discrimination were laid bare in The Sunday Times in the United Kingdom and by Pacific Rugby Players Welfare head Dan Leo, who wrote a scathing press release condemning his nomination.
Confirming Kean’s withdrawal this week, World Rugby said in a statement: “While it is important to stress that any allegations must be validated, following dialogue with World Rugby, the Fiji Rugby Union recognises the seriousness of the allegations made and the need for them to be fully investigated, and that it is in the best interests of the sport that Mr Kean steps down from the council and his executive committee candidature be withdrawn.”
However, Kean, who is Fiji Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s brother-in-law remains chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union.
“The Pacific nations are in a position now where they can use the situation for a bit of leverage, if it is okay for the incumbents to start offering out incentives or dangling carrots, whatever you want to call it,” SkyTV rugby commentator Tony Johnson, who has covered a lot of Pacific rugby, told Pacific Media Watch.
“So, they are suddenly in a situation where they can be kingmaker.
“It is an intriguing situation that has arisen. The Kean situation has perhaps made changes a little bit possible.
“Given that his vote was going to support the status quo [Bill Beaumont and Bernard Laporte], and I’m not sure why they would do that.
“But it maybe opens it up again, it is a unique situation. The battle lines between north and south have been drawn so you have the six nations driven very much by England and France with everyone else falling into line behind them.
“And then you’ve got the SANZAR [South Africa, New Zealand and Australia] nations on the other side, so for me it is going to be the unions who are so often referred to as the ‘smaller nations’. it’s not a name that reflects their contribution to the game but that’s what people tend to call them,” he said.
The powers in rugby get two votes and the lesser nations one vote.
“Well, it’s always been lopsided. You’ve got to hope whether there is a change in thinking brought about by this current vote, then the voice will be greater,” Johnson said.
“The big question now is what happens with Fiji’s vote. I have no idea why, but Fiji was going to vote for the Bill Beaumont and Bernard Laporte ticket.
“He [Kean] was going to sit on the world rugby executive, I’m not sure what is going to happen now.
“Whether they reassess their position, who they are going to vote for, I think that is going to be quite important.”
Status quo favourites
According to him the status quo looked odds on favourite at the moment.
“If it were a presidential race then I would say Beaumont is ahead, but that can change,” he said before adding, “i’ve got too much respect for the Pacific nations to tell them who to vote for, they should vote for whatever is good for them.
“As I say, they can use this situation for some leverage, to win some concessions.
“Then I think it’s okay for those countries whose votes they are going to need to start laying out a few conditions.
“They’ve been plenty of promises broken in the past.”
Asked how he thought SANZAR would vote, he said: “You would think they [SANZAR nations] would vote for Pichot, I don’t think there is anything to be gained from backing the status quo.
“The worry I have is that SANZAR doesn’t always present a united front. They always say they will, but it hasn’t always worked that way.
‘Pichot is the guy’
“If we genuinely want to change the landscape of the game and make it more equitable, level the playing field, then personally I think Pichot is the guy.”
But whatever happened, both Pichot and Beaumont had rugby politics to contend with, he said.
“Don’t get me wrong, Bill Beaumont is a very nice guy but he has been hamstrung in what he would like to do by rugby politics,” Johnson added.
The vote is to take place on Sunday.
Nominated for chairman: Beaumont and Pichot
Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont is standing for a second term and has been nominated and proposed by the Fédération Française de Rugby and seconded by the Fiji Rugby Union.
Vice-Chairman Agustín Pichot (Union Argentina de Rugby) was nominated and proposed by Unión Argentina de Rugby and seconded by Rugby Australia and Sudamérica Rugby.
Nominated for vice-chairman: Bernard Laporte
Fédération Française de Rugby President Bernard Laporte has been nominated and proposed by the Rugby Football Union and seconded by Federația Română de Rugby.
Where contested, chairman and vice-chairman candidates must achieve a simple majority of the votes held by the members of council present, in line with the electoral process set out under the bylaw. The vote numbers will be published.
Executive committee nominations:
Eight nominations (now seven) have been received for the seven available positions on the World Rugby Executive Committee
Mark Alexander (South African Rugby Union), nominated and proposed by Rugby Africa and the South African Rugby Union and seconded by New Zealand Rugby and the South African Rugby Union.
Khaled Babbou (Rugby Africa), nominated and proposed by Rugby Africa and seconded by the South African Rugby Union and the Fédération Française de Rugby.
Bart Campbell (New Zealand Rugby), nominated and proposed by New Zealand Rugby and seconded by the South African Rugby Union.
Gareth Davies (Welsh Rugby Union), nominated and proposed by the Scottish Rugby Union and seconded by the Welsh Rugby Union.
John Jeffrey (Scottish Rugby Union), nominated and proposed by the Welsh Rugby Union and seconded by the Irish Rugby Football Union.
*Ratu Vilikesa Bulewa Francis Kean (Fiji Rugby Union), nominated and proposed by the Fiji Rugby Union and seconded by the Fédération Française de Rugby. (Now withdrawn)
Bob Latham (USA Rugby), nominated and proposed by USA Rugby and seconded by Rugby Americas North.
Brett Robinson (Rugby Australia), proposed and nominated by Rugby Australia and seconded by the Unión Argentina de Rugby.
*Ratu Vilikesa Bulewa Francis Kean (Fiji Rugby Union), nominated and proposed by the Fiji Rugby Union and seconded by the Fédération Française de Rugby – but now withdrawn after The Sunday Times report.
To be elected, executive committee nominees need to be one of the seven candidates who win the highest number of votes.
The chairman, vice-chairman and executive committee will be elected for a period of four years commencing immediately after the results are announced by the auditor to council on May 12.