Much attention is being paid to World Rugby's election of its chairman next month – either England's Bill Beaumont or Argentina's Agustin Pichot. You wonder if either can do what's needed.
The Covid-19 crisis has set the stage for a wholesale revamp of the way World Rugby is run – but whether 'status-quo' Beaumont or 'young gun' Pichot can actually achieve that is the real question, in spite of all the election verbiage and politicking to the contrary.
Something or someone else may be needed to bring World Rugby out of its 19th century thinking and anatomy. It needs (to borrow from the coronavirus crisis) to eradicate the infection of power that resides with the traditionalists and to wash its hands of the world's worst structure of a major sporting body.
World Rugby has talked for aeons about "growing the game" when what they really mean is consolidating their power. Look at rugby's history, even recent history.
When the first World Cup was mooted for 1987, the northern unions weren't keen, with Ireland and Scotland voting against it and England and Wales split. It turned out to have been a rather good idea spearheaded by New Zealand and Australia, heavily supported by South Africa and France, earning $720m for the world body last time.
British rugby had huffed and puffed when dastardly northerners started paying players; breakaway rugby league was formed. It was exactly 100 years later, in 1995, when professional rugby became the revolution that threatened to topple the traditionalists – who dropped all defence of the amateur ethic faster than Joe Marler.
In 2019, the proposed Nations Championship – designed to move rugby into a genuinely global format – was skittled because Scotland and Ireland (again) voted it down. They didn't like the prospect of relegation to tier two.
Come on. How ludicrous is it that these two Celtic nations can hold sway? The answer, sadly, is in the imperial – or should that be imperious? – pukka sahib structure of World Rugby which gives preferential voting rights to the powerful.
There's more than 90 rugby nations round the world but only 51 votes allotted in World Rugby. England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina have three votes each (a total of 30 and a majority).
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Japan has two votes and seven tier two countries (Fiji, Samoa, Canada, USA, Uruguay, Georgia and Romania) have one each. Six regional areas have two each (Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, South and North America).
So you get the drift. The big guys (including New Zealand who is complicit in this) have herd immunity – setting themselves up in isolation while the lesser beings battle the virus of second-class citizenship to win acceptance to the higher strata. How very British.
Compare that with football's democratic system. FIFA has 211 member nations. They all have a single vote. Rugby's system is set up to reward self-interest; football's is set up for the greater good of the global game – not that it is without lobbying, politicking and (ahem) corruption. At least the basis of the system starts out as fair.
That self-interest is part of the reason why the likes of Namibia, Spain, Portugal, Russia and Ivory Coast – all of whom have played in Rugby World Cups – have never gone on to amount to much. It's also partly why USA are good at sevens but not 15s rugby (because they can play at top level in sevens). Let's not even think about what has happened to the Pacific Island nations.
It's why you fear for Pichot's vision of the future – including the restoration of the global Nations Championship, fairer revenue-sharing and a review of internal structures (aka ditching the present unfair and outmoded structure).
All good stuff but it's easy to see, even in the unlikely event Pichot wins the election, traditionalist World Rugby members allowing the fox in the henhouse but then throwing eggs at him until he gives up or compromises.
Beaumont is portrayed as the face of conservatism but is also pushing a review of how the game finances itself and the installation of the Nations Championship. Actual change could be years away because of virus-related uncertainties and he also wants tier one and two nations to "devise a plan for a global competition structure that better supports unions at the top and those aspiring to get there". He is backing an international club competition.
The money side of things is urgent; even the powerful northern hemisphere has clubs heavily in debt after a period of inflationary player salaries and other costs – propped up only by billionaire owners. That house of cards could quickly fall.
Again, however, it's not hard to see the old guard lining up, dressed in full PPE - masks, face shields and body suits - aiming to repel or delay the virus of change. Rugby's history points that way.
It may need further disasters yet to move the oysters from their rocks – as when the establishment surprised everyone by moving like lightning when the game went professional in 1995 and the IRB (as it was then) was threatened with losing control to a rebel organisation.
That kind of revolutionary urgency is what may be needed to provoke real, meaningful and fast change – not the election of a chairman to preside over a tainted model. Will Covid-19 be that and will rugby finally, effectively, wash its hands of its past? We'll see.